British Airways to be sued over pilot abuse claims

Simon Wood Simon Wood was found dead after being charged with sexually abusing children

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British Airways is to be sued for damages over claims one of its pilots sexually abused children in African schools and orphanages.

Lawyers claim the airline bears responsibility because the alleged victims were assaulted by First Officer Simon Wood while on stopovers.

Mr Wood, 54, from Potters Bar, Herts, died when he was hit by a train on 18 August last year.

BA said it was "shocked and horrified" by the allegations.

An inquest is due to be held into the death of Mr Wood, who had been charged with one count of indecent assault of a girl under 16, two counts of making indecent photographs of a child and one count of possessing indecent images of a child.

'Shocked and horrified'

Law firm Leigh Day said Mr Wood allegedly molested youngsters during stopovers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania while flying for British Airways. Some of their clients are aged just eight.

Lawyer Nichola Marshall said: "We allege that Wood was able to abuse the victims, by reason of his employment with the airline, in particular through his involvement with the airline's community relations work.

"The schools and orphanages that our clients attended were all in receipt of charitable donations from the airline, and Wood played a key role in administering those donations, on behalf of British Airways."

The Crown Prosecution Service said Mr Wood was first arrested over an indecent assault allegation in November 2001 but prosecutors ruled there was insufficient evidence to charge him.

It reconsidered the case after receiving new details of similar alleged offences committed overseas and apparent evidence of indecent images.

A British Airways spokesman said: "We were shocked and horrified to hear the allegations against Simon Wood.

"Our sympathies are with the victims and it is disappointing that the conduct of one person has caused so much distress to the many thousands of decent people who engage in charitable works on a regular basis."

The inquest into Mr Wood's death is due to be held at Hertfordshire Coroner's Court.

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