David Cameron has responded to criticism from the families of victims of the Tunisia attack by saying the Foreign Office was doing “whatever it takes” to help them with repatriation and locating loved ones.
A second contingent of the Foreign Office’s emergency Rapid Deployment Team was sent to the country on Saturday after relatives of some of those caught up in the horror said they had had more help from Tunisian authorities than British officials.
In a grim statement from Downing Street, the Prime Minister tried to reassure families, saying: “One can only imagine the pain and anguish and agony of families that have been caught up in these terrible events. We have a team on the ground in Sousse. They are working hard and I’ve been speaking with them on a videolink this morning. A full deployment team will arrive later today to give even more help to the families. We will do whatever it takes to help them.”
Tobias Ellwood, the Foreign Office minister, confirmed that the toll of 15 Britons killed “may well rise”, adding that the atrocity was “the most significant terrorist attack on the British people” since 7 July 2005, when 52 people were killed.
Speaking from the Foreign Office, Mr Ellwood said he had spent most of the day on the phone with victims and families caught up in the “appalling attack”. British police had flown to the resort to help identify victims, and consular teams were in hospitals and hotels looking after those affected, he said.
Mr Ellwood’s words carried added poignancy as his brother Jon was among the 27 Britons killed in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings. At the time, he criticised the Foreign Office and embassy response as “horrific”. It took him three days to find out that his brother had died, and a lack of support meant he had to nail the lid down on Jon’s coffin.
The then Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, asked Mr Ellwood, who was not an MP at the time, for ideas on how to improve British embassy responses, and this gave rise to the Rapid Deployment Teams to provide emergency assistance to Britons caught up in terrorist attacks and natural disasters.
In his statement Mr Ellwood said: “Sadly, I can confirm that at least 15 British nationals were killed in yesterday’s atrocity but I should stress that the number may well rise as several more have been seriously injured in this horrific attack.
“This is the most significant terrorist attack on British people since 7/7 and highlights the ongoing threat of Isil [Isis].”
Describing the attack as an act of “evil and brutality”, Mr Ellwood said it demonstrated why extremism had to be confronted “wherever this happens”.
Asked if he feared further attacks on Britons abroad, he said: “We always have to be vigilant wherever we are in the world and we are doing our utmost to work with the international community to make all our places of interest safer.”
British intelligence officials were visiting other resorts popular with British tourists in the country to check on security arrangements.
The Prime Minister chaired a second meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency response committee at 9am on Saturday, when he was briefed by the intelligence services as well as Foreign Office officials.
Mr Cameron was joined at the meeting by George Osborne in his capacity as First Secretary of State, as well as the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond.
Mr Cameron said: “I will ensure we do all we can to help those affected and to protect people from this terrorist threat. Our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of those killed or injured in the attack. We will do everything necessary to get people home, including those injured.”Reuse content