Parent hit out as reps are cleared over gas deaths

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The Independent Online

The parents of a brother and sister who died from carbon monoxide poisoning said they were "beyond disappointment" after a Greek court cleared their tour company of any wrongdoing.

Neil Shepherd and Sharon Wood said their faith in the company had been "misplaced and abused".

Christianne Shepherd, seven, and her six-year-old brother Robert, from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, died after a faulty boiler leaked gas into their bungalow in Corfu in October 2006.

The children were on a half-term holiday with their father and his partner, Ruth Beatson, who were both left in a coma as a result of the accident but survived.

Thomas Cook employees Richard Carson, 28, and Nicola Gibson, 26, were charged alongside nine Greeks with manslaughter by negligence in relation to the children and causing bodily injury by negligence to Mr Shepherd and Ms Beatson.

After a lengthy court case, which started in February, three judges at Corfu Town courthouse yesterday found Mr Carson, a customer affairs executive, and Ms Gibson, a holiday representative, not guilty.

The court heard that carbon monoxide fumes at the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel in Gouvia leaked into the bungalow from an outhouse next door.

President of the judging panel Panagiotis Molyvdas said the tour company staff were misinformed by the hotel manager that there was no gas being used in the bungalows and they were not responsible for "bringing about the lethal outcome".

The judge pinned the blame on hotel manager Georgios Chrysikopoulos, head of the hotel technical department Petros Stoyiannos and hotel electrician Christos Louvros, who were each sentenced to seven years in jail.

The hotel staff knew there was no chimney for the release of fumes from the boiler.

But they also "wired off" the thermostatic valve, effectively shutting down the boiler's only other safety mechanism.

Civil engineer Dimitrios Xidias, who built the outhouses without chimneys, was given a suspended sentence of two years for breach of building regulations.

Mr Shepherd and Ms Beatson, along with the children's mother and her husband, Paul, listened intently to the trial.

Standing on the steps of the courthouse, Mr Shepherd struggled to contain his emotion as he urged the hotel owners to "carry out their promise of demolishing the bungalow and replacing it with a suitable memorial to our beloved children".

He said: "If just one person had done their job correctly Christi and Bobby would be here today.

"Nobody deliberately set out to cause Christi and Bobby's death but everyone who worked on or knew about the disgusting state of the boiler in our eyes were grossly negligent.

"We paid money to Thomas Cook to send us to a hotel they considered safe. Our faith in this company was misplaced and abused."

He said it was not right that Mr Carson was given responsibility for carrying out health and safety inspections, when he had no relevant qualifications.

"We believe that the health and safety management system adopted by Thomas Cook failed.

"We still believe that, had the process been followed to the letter, Christi and Bobby would still be alive now."

Mrs Wood said: "Our feelings go beyond disappointment for we consider each of the defendants a link in a chain of events which led to our children losing their lives - each of these links vital, each capable of preventing the tragedy.

"I have and always will include Thomas Cook in this link. They are the biggest travel company in the world."

Thomas Cook UK & Ireland chief executive Pete Constanti said: "We have always maintained that this tragic accident was the result of a unique set of circumstances, none of which could be the responsibility of the company or Richard Carson and Nicola Gibson.

"We believe that they should never have formed part of this court case."

He said the "thorough and robust trial" had confirmed the innocence of his staff, adding: "Both individuals are exemplary members of our team and we are pleased that they have now been fully vindicated."

Boiler maintenance engineers Theo Koromios and Nikolaos Varthis, architect Alexandros Gavrielidis, safety technician Damianis Goudelis and Michael Florentiadis, who renovated the roof of the outhouse in 2001, were all cleared of any wrongdoing.

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