Sri Lanka attacks: British dad's tribute to 'amazing' family

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Anita, Alex, Annabel and Ben Nicholson
Image caption,
Anita Nicholson and her son Alex, 14, and daughter Annabel, 11, died in the Shangri-La hotel bombing

A British husband has paid tribute to his "wonderful" wife and their two "amazing" children who were among the 310 victims of a wave of bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.

Ben Nicholson survived the blast at the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo but his wife Anita, 42, their son Alex, 14, and daughter Annabel, 11, were all killed.

They had been visiting the country on holiday from their home in Singapore.

Five other British citizens were among those killed in eight blasts.

They include former firefighter Bill Harrop and his partner, Dr Sally Bradley, from Manchester who were also on holiday.

Tributes were also paid to business student Daniel Linsey and his sister, Amelie Linsey, who attended Godolphin and Latymer School in west London.

The school said it was "obviously devastated and shocked" by the news, while Westminster Kingsway College, which Daniel attended, said it was "saddened" to hear of his "tragic death".

The suicide attacks on churches and hotels in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa also left 500 people injured.

Image caption,
Bill Harrop and his partner Sally Bradley were among those killed in the blasts

In Sri Lanka, the first mass funeral has been held as the nation marks a day of mourning for the victims.

Sri Lanka's government has blamed the blasts on local Islamist group National Thowheed Jamath.

The Islamic State (IS) group later claimed it carried out the attacks - but a BBC correspondent in Sri Lanka said the claim should be treated cautiously.

Police have now detained 40 suspects in connection with the attack. A spokesman said they included a Syrian who was arrested "after the interrogation of local suspects".

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's defence minister, Ruwan Wijewardene, has said that "preliminary investigations" indicate the bombings were in retaliation for deadly attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March. He did not give any details.

The UK's Foreign Office has updated its travel advice for Sri Lanka, warning tourists to avoid crowded public areas, plan any movements carefully and avoid travelling during the newly-implemented nationwide curfew.

'Inspirational mother'

Mr Nicholson, a partner with law firm Kennedys, said his family were killed at a table in the restaurant of the Shangri-La Hotel, in the capital Colombo.

He said he was "deeply distressed" at his loss but "mercifully, all three of them died instantly and with no pain or suffering".

He added that his wife, a lawyer for mining firm Anglo American, "was a wonderful, perfect wife and a brilliant, loving and inspirational mother to our two wonderful children".

"Alex and Annabel were the most amazing, intelligent, talented and thoughtful children, and Anita and I were immensely proud of them both and looking forward to seeing them develop into adulthood.

"They shared with their mother the priceless ability to light up any room they entered and bring joy to the lives of all they came into contact with."

He thanked the medical teams in Colombo and the Sri Lankan people he had encountered since.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The damaged Shangri-La hotel in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, after an explosion

Assistant County Fire Officer Dave Keelan, of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, has paid tribute to his former colleague Mr Harrop after hearing the "devastating" news.

"Bill served here for 30 years, retiring at the end of 2012. He was a much loved and respected colleague and friend. He will be greatly missed."

Dr Bradley, who moved to Western Australia in 2012, was the director of clinical services at Rockingham Peel Group in Perth.

Executive director Kathleen Smith told 6PR radio: "She absolutely loved living in Australia. She felt very at home here.

"They (Dr Bradley and Mr Harrop) were soul mates, they just lived for each other.

"He had two boys, which Sally took on as her step-sons. She talked about them as if they were her own."

The team from North Manchester General Hospital, where Sally had previously worked, added: "Sally was a lovely, kind individual, extremely approachable and gave so much to the NHS in Manchester during her career."

It is not currently known which explosion killed the couple.

Most of those killed in the explosions are thought to be Sri Lankan nationals but officials say at least 31 foreigners are among the dead including British, Indian, Danish, Saudi, Chinese and Turkish nationals.

Details have started to emerge about some of them, including Sri Lankan celebrity chef Shantha Mayadunne and her daughter Nisanga, and three children of Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen.

Queen's condolences

The UK's High Commissioner, James Dauris, confirmed that eight British citizens were known to have died but said there were no further Britons with serious injuries.

Mr Dauris said: "We know there are a small number of foreign nationals who are unaccounted for. We don't know what the nationality of those people is."

He urged those still in the country to contact relatives and to follow instructions from local authorities.

Manisha Gunasekera, Sri Lanka's High Commissioner, told the BBC that the large Sri Lankan community in the UK was "very concerned".

The Queen has offered her condolences to Sri Lanka's president, saying her thoughts and prayers were with all Sri Lankans.

She said: "Prince Philip and I were deeply saddened to learn of the attacks in Sri Lanka yesterday and send our condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives."

Media caption,

Deadly explosions strike across Sri Lanka

Three churches in Negombo, Batticaloa and Colombo's Kochchikade district were targeted during Easter services. Blasts also rocked the Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels in the country's capital.

Police then carried out raids on two addresses and there were explosions at both. One was in Dehiwala, southern Colombo, and the other was near the Colombo district of Dematagoda in which three officers were killed.

The Sri Lankan government said on Monday that the bombings were carried out with the support of an international network.

The Foreign Office has directed British citizens to two helplines:

  • Those in Sri Lanka and can call the Embassy in Colombo: +94 11 5390639
  • Those in the UK who are concerned for British friends or family in Sri Lanka can call: 020 7008 1500

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