Thomas Cook’s response to the deaths of two young children Christi and Bobby Shepherd, who died while on holiday in Corfu in 2006 of carbon monoxide poisoning from a defective boiler, has been under intense media scrutiny in the past few weeks.
At the inquest into their deaths this month, nearly 8 years after the tragedy, the Coroner ruled the only conclusion the jury could reach was unlawful killing. This is unsurprising since in 2010 three people working at the hotel where the children were saying, were convicted of manslaughter in a Greek court. Eight other people were cleared of manslaughter including two Thomas Cook travel reps.
Although the inquest jury also found that Thomas Cook ‘had breached its duty of care’ it will not face any criminal sanction. Even if the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 had been in place at the time, it does not apply to deaths abroad. Similarly the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 does not apply.
It has now emerged the Company received £3.5m compensation from the hotel for lost profits and legal costs relating to the deaths, an amount 10 times greater than the compensation paid to the family. Its chief executive between 2012 and 2014 has come under fire for the way in which the company handled matters during her tenure, exacerbated by the news she is likely to receive a 10m bonus.
The problem for Thomas Cook has been its failure to apologise. During the inquest the company’s line was that it regretted the deaths but that it had done nothing wrong and so had nothing to apologise for. However a week after the inquest Peter Fankhauser, the current chief executive told the BBC: “I am deeply sorry about the tragic death of Bobby and Christi Shepherd…From the deepest of my heart I am sorry. It is clear that there are things that we as a company could have done better in the past nine years.”
Saying ‘sorry’ does not amount to an admission of guilt or even necessarily an acceptance of civil liability – it is a natural human reaction to a tragic event. The failure of a company to show compassion in the wake of a disaster is likely to be criticised particularly in this age of social media. Arguably the fall out from the inquest has inflicted just as much reputational damage upon the Company as a criminal conviction would have done.
First published on the SHP Blog: http://www.shponline.co.uk/