Corfu deaths: hotel may be charged

Coroner confirms children killed by gas as past guest reveals similar illness was blamed on tummy bug
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The Independent Online

Manslaughter charges may be levelled against the owners of a Corfu hotel where two British children were found dead, it emerged last night.

The operators of the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel in the resort of Gouvia may face prosecution after a Greek coroner ruled that the children found dead there on Thursday were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Meanwhile, a British couple who had stayed in the same hotel bungalow have revealed how they collapsed with what they thought was a tummy bug only days before the tragedy.

Kathy Pallant and her husband Andrew, from Leighton Buzzard, Buckinghamshire, had to be taken away in an ambulance just four days before the Shepherd children were killed by fumes from a faulty boiler. Ms Pallant said they were so ill that her partner had to crawl to the phone to call for help.

The death of the children, seven-year-old Christianne Shepherd and her brother Robert, six, occurred after their father, Neil Shepherd, had taken them to the popular beach resort with his girlfriend, Ruth Beatson, for a half-term holiday.

On Wednesday the children were seen at breakfast looking unwell, then on Thursday morning a maid went into their room to find the family on the floor.

Mr Shepherd, 38, and Ms Beatson, 27, were unconscious and the two children lay dead. All four had gathered in the same room as the poison overwhelmed them.

Theodore Vougiouklakis, one of two coroners to examine the children, told reporters: "A large quantity of carbon monoxide was found in their systems."

The children's mother, Sharon Wood, 35, flew to Corfu from her home in West Yorkshire on Friday to identify her son and daughter. One hotel guest who saw her arrive said: "She was inconsolable."

Yesterday Mrs Wood visited the mortuary in Corfu, with a man believed to be her husband, and spent 10 minutes there saying goodbye to her children.

Mr Shepherd is being treated in the island's general hospital. He is said to have regained consciousness but is suffering extreme shock. Doctors consider him too unwell to be told that his children are dead. Ms Beatson, a teacher, is also thought too ill to be informed.

A leaking gas-fired water boiler outside the room where the children were sleeping is thought to have produced the poisonous fumes, which were then pulled into the building by an air-conditioning unit.

Police confirmed that the hotel and the maintenance company responsible for the upkeep of its gas boiler may face charges. Two officers from Scotland Yard, who are permanently based in Athens, have travelled to Corfu to help the Greek police.

The hotel manager, George Hrisikopoulos, is co-operating with investigators. He said: "It's too early for conclusions. We are working with the police."

Nikos Georgiadis, the Greek MP for Corfu, was at the hotel yesterday. He said he would take all necessary steps to make sure nothing like this happens again. "Our first objectives are to support the family," he added.