Leeds & West Yorkshire

Corfu holiday gas deaths: Father blames Thomas Cook

Christianne and Robert Shepherd Image copyright PA
Image caption Christianne Shepherd, seven, and her brother Robert, six, died from carbon monoxide poisoning

The father of two children who died on holiday in Corfu said he "firmly believed" they would be alive had Thomas Cook inspected a faulty boiler.

Robert and Christianne Shepherd, aged six and seven, of Horbury, West Yorkshire, died from carbon monoxide poisoning in October 2006.

Neil Shepherd told Wakefield Coroners' Court he was "paralysed by guilt" over their deaths.

Their mother Sharon Wood said the faulty boiler was "gross negligence"

Mr Shepherd sobbed as he described his "perfect son" and "feisty, loving" daughter.

The family booked the holiday with Thomas Cook and arrived at the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel on 23 October.

Both children complained of feeling unwell on 25 October and were found dead the following day by a chambermaid. Mr and Mrs Shepherd were found in a coma.

Mr Shepherd, 46, told the inquest hearing he later learned the previous occupants of their bungalow were in hospital suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Trauma

The court heard on 25 October Bobby appeared to trip on his way to the hotel restaurant, while Christi said she had a headache.

Mrs Shepherd, 35, said she also felt dizzy and sick that evening and heard Christi crying and being sick.

Image caption Neil and Ruth Shepherd both gave evidence at Wakefield Coroners' Court

She said she could hear Bobby whimpering and they both went to comfort the children before losing consciousness themselves.

Coroner David Hinchliff told Mrs Shepherd: "You went to Bobby and lay next to him on the bed. You were stroking his hair to try to comfort him."

An inspection of the boiler serving the family's bungalow found it had been incorrectly installed and a safety cut-off device had been deliberately short-circuited.

Post-mortem tests revealed carbon monoxide levels in the children's bloodstreams were 56.8 and 60.7% respectively - levels above 50% are fatal.

Mr Shepherd told the court: "I firmly believe my children would be here today if Thomas Cook had carried out an inspection of those boilers."

The court heard Mr Shepherd suffered from memory problems and post-traumatic stress disorder since his children's deaths.

"You're still paralysed with guilt about what happened on what you describe as your watch," Mr Hinchliff said.

'Gross negligence'

The children's mother, Sharon Wood, echoed Mr Shepherd's comments about the travel company when she told the court: "I want to look further up the chain of command in Thomas Cook.

"I want to know why those gas boilers were not identified, why they were not serviced regularly.

"This is not just a difference of local standards abroad. This is gross negligence."

She added: "Ultimately, my children paid the price with their lives."

The jury heard Mrs Wood learned about Bobby and Christi's deaths on the radio at home in West Yorkshire and was told when she arrived in Corfu she would have to wait to see them.

She said: "I was expecting to be taken directly to see the children but the next day was a bank holiday and I was told I wouldn't see them for two days."

But the priest at the church where their bodies were being kept allowed her to visit.

Her voice broke as she told the inquest: "Christi and Bobby were both dressed in someone else's clothes and they had their shoes on the wrong feet. I wanted my children to be dressed in their own clothes."

Mrs Wood said she visited the bungalow and saw that an air conditioning unit had been ripped off the wall and the boiler house was sealed up with police tape.

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