Holiday bookings unaffected despite 'uncompassionate response' to carbon monoxide deaths, claims Thomas Cook boss

Robert and Christianne Shepherd were poisoned by a faulty boiler at the resort at which they were staying in 2006

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The Independent Online

The head of Thomas Cook has said the furore over its handling of the death of two children killed by carbon monoxide poisoning on holiday in Corfu had yet to hit bookings at the tour operator.

Robert and Christianne Shepherd were poisoned by a faulty boiler at the resort at which they were staying in 2006. An inquest last week found the children had been unlawfully killed and that Thomas Cook had “breached its duty of care”, although the company was cleared of responsibility for the deaths in 2010.

This week, Thomas Cook announced it had belatedly donated £1.5m to Unicef, after it emerged it had received the money in compensation from the owner of the Louis Corcyra Beach hotel. But there have been calls for a boycott of the firm after the chief executive, Peter Fankhauser, said there was “no need to apologise because there was no wrongdoing by Thomas Cook”. Former boss Manny Fontenla-Novoa refused to answer questions about the tragedy.

Mr Fankhauser stressed that “as a father myself from the deepest of my heart I feel sorry”. But he said the row had not affected the business. “So far we don’t see an change in the booking patterns in the UK, but it is clear that things as a company could have [been] done better over the last nine years, especially in… relations with the family and that is where I feel sorry as well.”

The company’s crass handling of the issue – including publicising a letter of apology in the media before it was received by the parents, Neil Shepherd and Sharon Wood, exacerbated the public outcry and the company’s Facebook page has been deluged with attacks on its “uncompassionate response”.

Mr Fankhauser said: “We understand that we have to fix this issue and we have to do everything to resolve it. What we are not going to do – the mistake we did in the past – is to communicate with the family via the media.”

There was more positive news from the group’s interim results as Thomas Cook flagged up a return to dividend payouts three-and-a-half years after the company came close to collapse in 2011.

Harriet Green, its former chief executive, carried out drastic surgery on the then debt-laden group – including thousands of job cuts – after it was forced to seek emergency funding. Mr Fankhauser took over from the ousted Ms Green last year and intends to resume payouts for the year to September 2016, armed with £800m in new financing.

Although bookings have been “impacted by a later booking profile and softer market demand”, its summer programme is 62 per cent sold to date and the firm expects to meet full-year hopes. Underlying losses in the year to 31 March narrowed from £187m to £173m.

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