Tour firm workers on trial over Corfu deaths

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A grieving father broke down in tears today as he told a Greek court of the moments leading up to the deaths of his children from carbon monoxide poisoning in their holiday apartment.

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

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

Two Thomas Cook employees, Nicola Gibson and Richard Carson, today went on trial in Corfu Town charged with manslaughter by negligence and bodily harm by negligence.

Giving evidence at the trial, Mr Shepherd described the hours leading up to the tragedy.

He told the court he and his son had a race as the family went for breakfast that morning and tripped up and later said he felt dizzy.

But Mr Shepherd said his son "brightened up" as the day went on and his daughter showed no signs of illness until later that evening.

He said: "About 10 minutes after we had gone to bed Christi sat up and started being sick.

"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 into.

Mr Shepherd told the court of the moment he also began to suffer the effects of the poisoning as he tended to his daughter.

He told the court: "When she (Christi) 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 Sheperd 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 he relied on the Greek authorities for information.

"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 regarding 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."

The children's mother, Sharon Wood, also travelled to Corfu for the trial, but was made to leave the courtroom during Mr Shepherd's evidence as she will be called as a witness at a later date.

Her husband Paul will not be required to give evidence and sat in the courtroom.

Carson, 28, and Gibson, 26, sat at the front of the court with nine other defendants, all Greek, who are also charged over the deaths of the children.

A 12th defendant was earlier discharged from the hearing under Greek law.

Mr Shepherd told the court he had since learned that the bungalow's boiler was located outside, at the back of the property on the right hand side.

He described to the court what he had so far learned about the cause of the tragedy.

"We know now that the deaths of our children was caused by carbon monoxide poisoning," a highly-emotional Mr Shepherd said.

"We know that the boiler was faulty ... it wouldn't turn off with the carbon monoxide.

"We know that there was a hole from out of the boiler into the room and we know that the carbon monoxide built up and built up and poured through the hole which caused..."

At this point Mr Shepherd was unable to complete his sentence and a Greek translator standing next to him began to convey his words to the court.

He added that safety was the "main concern" when deciding on where to holiday as the welfare of Christianne and Robert had to be considered.

He also said that because the resort was a five-star complex, the couple presumed it would have better facilities than one with a lower rating and would therefore be safer.

Shortly after Mr Shepherd, Ms Beatson also gave evidence.

She, like her husband, did not remember anything other than going to lie with Robert when Christianne was vomiting - and then waking up in hospital.

She was asked by the court if she thought Thomas Cook was obliged to carry out safety checks on every boiler in every bungalow.

Ms Beatson answered: "I think Thomas Cook have a duty to make sure that their customers are going somewhere safe."

She was also asked about another family who had stayed in the bungalow just a few days before her and the family.

She said: "Since we've returned to England we've found out that they were hospitalised after staying in that bungalow.

"They had similar symptoms, they were dizzy and sick."

After finishing her evidence Ms Beatson sat down next to her husband, who put his arm round her shoulders as she sobbed quietly.

Speaking on the steps of the courthouse after the hearing, Mrs Wood said: "It has been nearly three and a half years since we lost Christi and Bobby to CO poisoning whilst on holiday in Corfu."

She added that, due to technicalities, the trial will resume later this month and then again in March.

"We are eager to be here to see justice is done and this is the last and only thing we can do for our children now.

"We continue to have faith that the Greek judicial system will find all those accused responsible for their part in our children's death and that lessons about CO and its dangers are learned.

"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.

"For this we are forever left in pain.

"Neil and Ruth, Christi and Bobby's dad and partner, have given evidence today and they are extremely upset. Unfortunately they will not be issuing a statement today.

"We are unable to comment any further on any issues as the trial is ongoing."

A spokesman for Thomas Cook said the accident was "unique and unforeseeable" and was not the fault of either Carson or Gibson.

He said: "What happened in Corfu was a terrible tragedy and the thoughts and sympathy of everyone at Thomas Cook will always be with the family and friends of Christianne and Robert Shepherd.

"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.

"We continue to give them our complete support and believe that they will both be fully vindicated by the court."

The trial was adjourned until February 17, when more witnesses will be called to give evidence, and it is then expected to resume on a date yet to be fixed in March.