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News | Tue 28th Feb, 2017
Today at the Royal Courts of Justice, the Coroner in the Tunisia Inquests, concluded that the 30 Britons killed when a gunman opened fire at a hotel in Sousse in June 2015, were “unlawfully killed.”
Andrew Ritchie QC of 9 Gough Chambers represented 22 of the families at the inquests, with assistance from Katherine Deal of 3 Hare Court. They were appointed by specialist international personal injury lawyers at Irwin Mitchell.
Andrew Ritchie says: “Coroners Courts have strong powers to investigate incidents but very restricted powers in relation to any failings apparent from the evidence. In these inquests, the Coroner and the Counter Terrorism Squad (SO15) put enormous effort into investigating this tragedy and a lot of evidence was given to the Court about what happened leading up to the massacre and on the day. But the Coroner was not empowered to give any verdict regarding anyone’s negligence or civil liability. He could only make findings of fact, phrasing those neutrally and then giving his verdict of unlawful killing.
“The Coroner’s verdict reflects that structure and for the families the structure was both helpful and frustrating.
“The Coroner heard about a failed suicide attack on a hotel in Sousse in October 2013 and the horrific attack at the Bardo Museum in Tunis in March 2015, 14 weeks before the Sousse attack in June 2015, in which 20 tourists were shot by terrorists. The Coroner found that there were appreciable security deficiencies at the hotel. In that context, he elicited evidence about the security at the hotel upon which he based some of his factual findings, including that: The hotel had no CCTV cameras covering the beach gates or the outside pool area, nor any CCTV control room. There was also no member of staff trained to watch the (absent) screens and call the security forces quickly. The hotel owned only six cameras and two were reported by the hotel manager as “not working”. Most other hotels in Sousse and Port El Kantaoui had between 20 and 40 cameras. Additionally, the hotel had two beach gates and one “beach sun bed cushion man” doubling up as a guard, who had no radio or mobile phone on the day. When the attack began, he ran off without apparently helping guests or raising an alarm.
“Further, that there were no built-in locks on the beach gates, which were left open on the day of the attack, nor was there a dedicated plan or trained staff to deal with such an incident. In a report presented to the Coroner from Tunisian Judge Akremi, who carried out an investigation into the attack, an accomplice of the attacker stated that they were instructed to “monitor an easy target” and chose the Imperial Marhaba Hotel.
“The Coroner also elicited evidence about TUI’s approach to the rising risk of terrorism in Tunisia finding that it audited the hotel for risks relating to fire, food hygiene and falling over but did no audit on whether the hotel had any security against terrorist attacks. Without an audit TUI did not make any recommendations to put in place any improved security at the hotel despite the terrorist attack at Bardo.
“Further, TUI said they were unaware of a circular letter from the country’s Minister of Tourism dated 25 March 2015 stating that all hotels had to tighten up their security, including installing adequate CCTV cameras with a control room and guards on all gates. Many of the families gave evidence that they were unaware of the FCO travel advice that there was a “high threat from terrorism” in Tunisia and/or were unaware of the detailed content of the travel advice and that neither TUI’s 2015 written brochure nor their 2015 website informed them of the content of the FCO travel advice before they booked. The Coroner found that if some had been made aware of the FCO travel advice they may well not have gone.
“On behalf of the families, I will now make further submissions to the Coroner about a report aimed at preventing future deaths and in relation to the FCO’s Travel Aware campaign. The families will also consider the claims that they intend to make against TUI for damages.”
Andrew Ritchie will now make submissions on behalf of the 22 families to the Coroner about a report aimed at preventing future deaths by 28 March. The Coroner gave the tour operator, TUI and the FCO until 28 April to respond and will then make a decision thereafter on whether there are grounds for a prevention of future deaths report.
Clive Garner, head of the international personal injury team at Irwin Mitchell representing 22 of the families who lost family members in the incident, said today: “During the past seven weeks both the Coroner and the families who we represent have heard shocking evidence about the level of security precautions at the Imperial Marhaba hotel at the time of the terrorist attack. The security guards employed at the hotel were clearly poorly trained, ineffective and unable to communicate with each other; there was limited CCTV coverage, much less than at other nearby hotels, and monitoring around key points at the hotel; while a number of other security measures were inadequate – including gates and perimeter fences; and there was no protocol in place to be followed in the event of a terrorist attack.
“The level of terrorist threat in Tunisia had been escalating for some time prior to June 2015. This included a failed suicide bomb attempt at a beach in Sousse. Then, following the terrifying events at the Bardo museum in Tunis in March 2015, the Tunisian Minister of Tourism wrote to alert all hotels requiring them to improve security measures. Tragically these steps were not implemented at the Imperial Marhaba Hotel.
“TUI the Tour Operator who organised the holidays for the victims has stated that it was unaware of the letter from the Minister of Tourism. Even more surprisingly, given the events in Bardo and elsewhere in Tunisia, TUI failed to audit the adequacy of security precautions at the Imperial Marhaba Hotel.
“It is now crucial that the whole travel industry learns from what happened in Sousse to reduce the risk of similar catastrophic incidents in future.
“Our clients are very grateful to the coroner for his careful and sensitive handling of the inquest proceedings. They feel he has been fair and thorough in his investigation and appreciate how he has tried to ensure throughout that the families come first.
“On behalf of our clients who lost members of their families and those who suffered injuries in this terrible incident, we will now be preparing to commence civil proceedings against TUI for damages.”
Irwin Mitchell is representing many families who lost loved ones on that tragic day as well as many others who were left suffering both physical and psychological injuries. The law firm will now be working with their clients to help them to overcome their ordeals which will include civil claims against the tour operator to recover the necessary support they now need.
The Tunisia Inquests website can be found at: www.tunisiainquests.independent.gov.uk.
For further information, pictures and interview requests please contact:
Shana Garioch at 9 Gough Chambers on 020 7832 0500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dave Grimshaw at Irwin Mitchell on 0114 274 4397 or email@example.com.
Andrew Ritchie QC is one of the UK’s leading personal injury and clinical negligence barristers. His profile can be viewed here.
9 Gough Chambers is the chambers of Andrew Ritchie QC. Founded in 1946, the set has carved out a reputation as a leader in the fields of personal injury, clinical negligence, professional negligence, inquest and inquiries, police law and regulatory law.
The set continues to be at the forefront of change in the legal profession, providing modern, professional and approachable legal services to a wide range of clients throughout the country and abroad. 9 Gough Chambers’s barristers are regularly instructed on the most serious and high value injury and clinical negligence cases as well as representing victims of catastrophic injuries abroad.
Chambers UK and Legal 500 rank both individuals and the set highly for Personal Injury, Clinical Negligence, Family Law, Criminal Law, Criminal Fraud and Police Law.
Clive Garner and the same specialist team of lawyers at Irwin Mitchell also represent the families of BP employees who lost their lives in January 2013 at the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria, when 39 foreign nationals were held hostage and then killed following an attack by an Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist group.
Lawyers from Irwin Mitchell have also represented victims and the families of those killed in other terrorist attacks including 9/11 (New York), 7/7 (London), the IRA bombing of Manchester city centre, and Pan Am flight 103 (Lockerbie).
Irwin Mitchell is over 100 years old and is one of the largest law firms in the UK. The firm is ranked as a market-leading personal legal services firm in the independent Legal 500 and Chambers UK guides to UK law with over 100 lawyers personally recommended.
Irwin Mitchell Scotland LLP is a separate Scottish legal practice regulated by the Law Society of Scotland and has an office in Glasgow.