Tunisia terror attack victim’s widow ordered to pay back funeral costs by government agency

Authority demanded £5,000 in 30 days from widow, while Manchester bombing survivor ‘treated like a criminal’

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Editor
Monday 17 July 2023 07:58 BST
Tunisia terror attack inquest: Police 'stalled arrival' at Sousse massacre

A terror attack victim’s widow was ordered to pay back funeral costs and threatened with legal action by the government’s compensation authority.

The woman’s family were on holiday in Tunisia in 2015, when an Isis-inspired gunman attacked a tourist resort and killed 38 people.

Thirty of the victims were from the UK, making the rampage the deadliest terror attack for Britons since the 2005 London bombings.

In the aftermath, the government urged those injured and bereaved families to apply to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) for payouts, with ministers pledging to do “all we can to support all those caught up in that terrible tragedy”.

But bereaved families who gave evidence to a report by the Survivors Against Terror group said the process had been “traumatic” and unfair.

One woman, who was on holiday with her family in Sousse when the attacker struck, said the costs mounted “thick and fast” after her husband was shot dead.

The woman, who survived the shooting alongside her son, received £5,000 in compensation months later from CICA, but it was less than the money she had already spent on repatriating her husband’s body and his funeral.

But after she was awarded funds in a separate civil claim brought against travel operator TUI, the woman began receiving “threatening” letters from CICA demanding its payout back.

In November, more than seven years after the attack, it ordered repayment of the £5,000 awarded in 2015 within 30 days because she had recieved a payout from TUI.

The woman said she was told that if repayment was not possible in that time, she had to enter a formal agreement or face legal action.

“I was shocked,” she added. “To be asked to pay back the money I had used to help pay for my husband’s funeral was just so upsetting, I couldn’t believe it.

“I feel like I am being accused of doing something wrong rather than being treated like a victim or a survivor.”

A tribute in Sousse to victims of the massacre

A spokesperson for CICA said that the initial £5,000 was an “interim payment” made on the condition that it may have to be returned if other compensation was received.

But the woman said she was struggling to keep a roof over her family’s head at the time and was terrified of being taken to court, and is now unable to retire as planned.

She called CICA a “broken service”, and said the government “hasn’t played their part to support or help us properly at all”.

More than 130 survivors from 11 different terror attacks shared their experiences for the survey, with many others saying they felt disbelieved, put “on trial” and traumatised by being forced to relive horrific experiences.

A young survivor of the Manchester Arena attack said her mother had “received more for a whiplash claim than I received for getting blown up in a bomb at my first concert”.

Another survivor of the bombing, who lost his partner and suffered life-changing injuries, said CICA demanded bank and medical records when he was recovering from a coma and several rounds of surgery.

“The whole theme then and even recently is that they don’t believe me, that I have to prove it all, like I’m a criminal,” he added.

A survivor of the 2017 London Bridge attack said the compensation they eventually received was an “insult”, while a victim of the 7/7 bombings said their award was reduced because of irrelevant decades-old criminal convictions, adding: “I just feel like I was punished a second time after being blown up.”

A survivor of the London bombings said he was ‘punished a second time’ when his compensation was reduced because of a 20-year-old criminal conviction
A survivor of the London bombings said he was ‘punished a second time’ when his compensation was reduced because of a 20-year-old criminal conviction (Getty)

Overall, 68 per cent of people surveyed said the compensation process was unfair and unreasonable, 62 per cent did not feel treated with respect and empathy, and the majority found requests for “proof” of physical or psychological injury unreasonable.

Survivors Against Terror called for the creation of a new compensation authority, overseen by the Home Office and “properly funded and staffed” by people trained to deal compassionately with attack survivors.

Co-founder Brendan Cox, the widower of murdered Labour MP Jo Cox, said the testimonies showed CICA was “broken”.

He added: “An organisation that is supposed to be helping survivors recover and rebuild is instead consistently doing them harm.

“Survivors deserve better. They have been attacked – not because of who they are, but as proxies for the British state. Therefore, the British state has a responsibility to ensure that they are supported. It is failing in that duty.”

In 2019, following a terror attack on a prison conference in London’s Fishmongers’ Hall, the government committed to consulting on a new charter guaranteeing survivors’ rights, but the document has not been published.

Then in 2020, it promised a dedicated compensation process for terrorism in the UK and abroad, but it has not emerged.

A government spokesperson said CICA was meant to be a “last resort” for people who are unable to seek or obtain compensation by other means.

A statement added: “It has paid £4.6m to victims of terrorism since 2017, with a dedicated team helping victims of the Manchester Arena attack receive the compensation to which they are entitled. But we know more must be done, which is why the government is reviewing the support available, to better address victims’ needs.”

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