Two British children killed by poison on Corfu holiday

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The Independent Online

A young brother and sister were found poisoned to death alongside their unconscious father and his partner in a Corfu hotel room yesterday.

Seven-year-old Christianne and Robert, six, had been dead for at least eight hours when a cleaner discovered them in the four-star Louis Corcyra hotel.

Their father Neil Shepherd, 38, and his partner Ruth-Emy Beatson, 27, were rushed, barely alive, to a local hospital. Last night they were in a critical condition on life-support machines.

Greek police were last night still trying to unravel whether they were investigating a criminal case or a terrible accident.

A spokesman said they were keeping an open mind as they awaited post-mortem and toxicology results. There was no sign of forced entry to the room, and officers are looking into all possibilities, ranging from food poisoning to a murder-suicide pact.

"The doctor says it's poison. We are still investigating but a possible cause could be mushrooms," said the spokesman. "I stress this is only a possibility as we are still investigating the deaths. Other guests said they didn't see the family have dinner in the hotel last night. So we think they may have had dinner outside but they could have eaten in their rooms, although we haven't found anything."

The family, from Horbury, near Wakefield, West Yorkshire, had arrived just three days earlier for a week-long, half-term holiday in the popular resort in Gouvia Bay on Corfu's east coast.

"The first indications show that they may have taken some sort of powerful poison," said Corfu general hospital pathologist Stefanos Gasteratos. "The adults are on life-support machines and in a critical condition."

Dr Gasteratos, who is the acting coroner, added: "The adults seem to have been stronger in fighting this, which is to be expected."

The hotel, set in lush gardens and surrounded by beaches, is popular with British tourists. Thomas Cook, with whom the family were travelling, said in a statement: "At this stage it is not possible to speculate on the causes. However, we are working closely with the hospital and the police to gain further information and to support the family."

But a source close to the hotel company insisted food poisoning was unlikely. "It looks like a serious consumption of a toxic poison. Food poisoning is out of the picture. There are 500 guests at the hotel right now and they are all fine. There was no sign of forced entry into the room nor was there a 'do not disturb sign' hanging on the door."

Police said post-mortem examinations on the children were due to be carried out today, adding: "The stomach contents of all four people have been sent to a university on the mainland for toxicology tests.

"We hope to get the results back after two or three days, to confirm if it is poison."

Last night the mother of the children, Sharon Wood, a dance teacher, flew to Corfu from her home in Horbury, West Yorkshire.