Inquest into British tsunami victims to re-open

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The Independent Online

A mass inquest into the deaths of 93 British victims of the devastating Asian tsunami will re-open today at an exhibition centre.

The Olympia Exhibition Centre in Kensington, west London, has been converted into a special coroner's court to stage the four-day hearing.

Relatives and friends of those who lost their lives in the Boxing Day disaster last year will be attending, with expert scientists and police officers who helped to identify the victims and support their bereaved families.

At least 141 Britons - most of them holidaymakers - are known to have been among the 200,000 people killed in the tsunami, which ravaged the coastlines of Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Maldives, among others.

This week's mass inquest will only consider the deaths of the 93 UK citizens whose bodies were repatriated following the disaster.

Their bodies were all brought back to Heathrow airport and then taken to Fulham mortuary, which is why the inquest is being handled by the West London Coroner, Alison Thompson.

Police are still working to identify formally the bodies of six of the other 48 Britons who died - although they believe they know who they are.

The remainder have either been buried or cremated in the countries where they died, or abroad elsewhere.

The mass inquest will open with an address from the coroner. She is expected to give a general introduction to the proceedings and explain the purposes of an inquest hearing.

Expert witnesses, including oceanographer Dr Tim Henstock, are then expected to give evidence about what caused the giant wave and its impact on the region.

Detective Chief Superintendent Nick Bracken, the senior identification manager with the Metropolitan Police, is also likely to give evidence about the forensic processes used formally to identify the British victims.

In the afternoon, the individual inquests will begin, starting with the victims who died in Sri Lanka. Each hearing will confirm the identity of the deceased and record when, where and how they died.

On Tuesday morning, the hearing will consider the deaths of those who died in the Maldives, followed by those who died in Thailand. It is expected to conclude on Thursday.

The inquests will not examine whether anyone was at fault for their deaths.

Eulogies about each victim, written by their families, are expected to be read out by police family liaison officers.

The deaths of Lord Attenborough's granddaughter Lucy Holland, his daughter Jane Holland and her mother-in-law Audrey Holland will be among those considered. They died when a tidal wave hit their beach while they holidayed in Phuket, Thailand.

One of the deaths likely to be considered today is that of June Abeyratne, 48, from Kingswood, Surrey, who died after saving her daughter Alexandra.

Mrs Abeyratne was holidaying on the south coast of Sri Lanka when the wave hit.

She managed to get Alexandra out of the hotel room by breaking the bathroom window, but the window was too small for her to fit through and she died.

Mrs Abeyratne, the managing director of south London children's model agency Little Acorns, had dreamed of opening an orphanage in the native country of her Sri Lankan husband Viraj.

The tsunami, one of the world's worst natural disasters, devastated much of the Indian Ocean region and sparked an unprecedented worldwide relief effort.

The Disasters Emergency Committee, which coordinated the aid appeal in the UK, raised a record £400 million. Billions more came from around the world.

Britain's biggest all force police investigation was launched to identify the victims of the tsunami, codenamed Operation Bracknell.

More than 2,500 officers were involved in tracing the missing, identifying their bodies, supporting their bereaved families and manning the casualty bureau.

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