Courtroom tears for children poisoned to death on holiday

Greek trial of Thomas Cook staff begins with father recalling moment he woke feeling dizzy from boiler leak
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A father broke down in tears yesterday as he told a Greek court how his two children died from carbon monoxide poisoning after a faulty boiler leaked gas into their holiday apartment.

Christianne Shepherd, seven, and her brother Robert, six, died while staying in a bungalow in Corfu in October 2006. The children, from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, were on holiday with their father Neil and his partner Ruth Beatson, who were both left in a coma as a result of the accident but survived.

Nicola Gibson and Richard Carson, who worked for Thomas Cook at the time, are on trial alongside nine Greek defendants. They are charged with manslaughter by negligence and bodily harm by negligence.

Giving evidence at the trial in Corfu Town, Mr Shepherd described the hours leading up to the tragedy. "About 10 minutes after we had gone to bed Christi sat up and started being sick," he said. "I immediately got up and went over to her to help. When I sat up I felt dizzy but my concern was for my daughter."

Mr Shepherd broke down in tears and struggled to tell the court how he went to get a carrier bag for his daughter to vomit in to. He then explained how he also began to suffer the effects of the poisoning as he tended to his daughter. He told the court: "When she was being sick I felt sick myself and was immediately sick. While I was tending to Christi, Ruth got up and went to sit with Bobby because we thought he would be upset.

"When Ruth got up to go to see to Bobby she said she felt dizzy too, but she had been feeling dizzy for maybe one or two weeks earlier so she just thought it was part of that." When Mr Shepherd was asked what happened next, he replied: "I can't remember anything after me being sick because I just passed out within a few seconds."

Mr Shepherd and Ms Beatson, who are now married, were both taken to a hospital in Athens and regained consciousness after a few days. It was there that they were both told of the deaths of Mr Shepherd's children.

Mr Shepherd said: "I can't really remember what was said or anything about that time because we were still very poorly and all I can remember is that my brother informed me that I had lost my children."

Struggling to compose himself as he recalled the aftermath of the accident, he told the court his information came from the Greek authorities. "I relied on the Greek police to find out the cause of the accident," he said. "We were in no position to do anything, we were both extremely poorly and traumatised."

Mr Shepherd went on to tell the court that, when the family arrived at the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel, their bungalow was not ready for them. When asked for his opinion of the complex, he said he thought it looked "very tired".

He also told the court the family was given no safety advice about the gas appliances in the bungalow and did not think to ask for any as they had previously checked in the holiday brochures that all accommodation was Corgi-registered. Mr Shepherd told the court: "You're going on holiday, the last thing going through your mind is not being safe. You just presume that you're safe, you presume that the tour operator has just done the checks so that you can just go away and enjoy your holiday and not have your children die."

Ms Beatson also gave evidence and explained that another family, who had stayed in the bungalow just a few days before her and the family, had been hospitalised. "They had similar symptoms, they were dizzy and sick," she said.

Speaking on the steps of the courthouse after the hearing, the children's mother, Sharon Wood, said: "We urge you all to remember our beautiful children were here for what should have been a happy family holiday. Their safety was in someone else's hands and we were let down."

A Thomas Cook spokesman said: "What happened in Corfu was a terrible tragedy. This tragic accident happened because of a unique and unforeseeable set of circumstances for which neither Richard Carson or Nicola Gibson are responsible and should not be blamed in any way." The trial was adjourned until 17 February.