Corfu deaths: Thomas Cook boss meets parents of children killed by faulty boiler

(The Guardian) The boss of Thomas Cook has met the family of two young children killed by carbon monoxide poisoning in Corfu.

Peter Fankhauser, chief executive of the travel firm, has admitted the company failed in its handling of the tragedy and pledged to help the children’s parents move on with their lives.

Arriving for the meeting in central London, Fankhauser told BBC News: “I’m very grateful that the family agreed to meet me.”

The company, which reportedly received in the region of £3.5m compensation from the hotel’s owner, on Monday donated £1.5m to Unicef. It did so after the parents of Bobby and Christi Shepherd said Thomas Cook’s reputation appeared to be worth more than their children’s lives.

Thomas Cook said the donation to Unicef meant it had made no money from suing Louis Group for failing to ensure the accommodation was safe. Another £1.5m went directly to Thomas Cook’s insurer.

The children, aged six and seven, died at the Louis Corcyra Beach hotel in 2006 when they were overcome by fumes from a defective boiler. On Sunday, Thomas Cook said it had received compensation “after it was clear the hotel was responsible”.

The children’s mother, Sharon Wood, said at the weekend that her family had received about £350,000 in compensation from the hotel group for the children’s deaths.

Fankhauser, who took over as Thomas Cook’s chief executive in November, said on Wednesday: “I feel truly sorry about the tragic deaths of Bobby and Christi. I accept that there have been many mistakes of how this case has been handled. Personally I could have done better also, so I’m sorry.”

Last week a jury at an inquest almost 10 years after the deaths of the children from Horbury, near Wakefield, gave a conclusion of unlawful killing, and said Thomas Cook had “breached their duty of care”.

The foreman also read out a series of conclusions which included how Thomas Cook had been misled by the hotel about its gas supply, but also how the holiday giant’s health and safety audit of the complex was inadequate.

Speaking after the inquest, Wood said she would always hold the travel company responsible for the deaths, saying it “could and should have identified that lethal boiler”.

The children’s father, Neil Shepherd, claimed the company had “hidden behind a wall of silence and they have refused to answer any questions for almost nine years”.

The coroner said he would deliver recommendations later this year to relevant organisations, which he hoped would influence British and European law and practices in the holiday industry.