Grieving families of Tunisia beach massacre victims accuse government of 'giving in' to tour operators

UK News - September 13 2016

The families of those killed in the Tunisian beach massacre accused the Government of giving in to tour operators by not banning travel to the terror hotspot.

The Foreign Office are accused of “cosy chats” with the multi-billion pound industry and failing in its responsibility to Brits travelling abroad. In June last year, 30 Brits were killed when Islamic State gunman Seifeddine Rezgui attacked a beachfront hotel in Sousse, murdering 38 in total.

The massacre came just three months after 22 people, mostly European tourists, were killed by gunmen in the Bardo National Museum, in Tunisia’s capital, Tunis.

At an pre-inquest hearing into the Sousse deaths , the lawyer acting for 17 families said the 180,000 Brits who went out to Tunisia in between the attacks could have been bettered protected.

Andrew Ritchie QC told the Royal Court of Justice: “There is a line of thinking amongst the families that the FCO [Foreign Office] may have failed in their responsibility to the 60,000 British citizens who went out per month between Bardot in March and Sousse in May.

“Rather than embargo [travel], they had discussions with local authorities who said it would be catastrophic if an embargo was put in place and discussions with the tour operators who said ‘Don’t, we will increase security’.”

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Travel agents TUI, Thompson's parent company, assured the FCO security would be increased if there was no embargo, said Mr Ritchie.

"The families are potentially concerned about the FCO having cosy chats with travel companies, who are interested in running profitable businesses, in light of then current FCO advice that there was a high risk of terrorist activity, including in tourist areas."

Mr Ritchie was speaking at a preliminary hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London set up to pave the way for the full inquests into the deaths, expected to start in January next year.

He was objecting to the FCO "vetting" an expert witness who is to be called on behalf of the families.
Mr Ritchie said the expert might determine that the department had "mucked up" its responsibility to check on security.

Andrew O'Connor QC, for the Government, told judge and coroner Nicholas Loraine-Smith: "All these suggestions are not accepted by the Foreign Office."

In particular it did not accept the QC's assertions with regard to the facts and issues surrounding travel advice given by the FCO.

The coroner said he was not going "to embark on the inquests today" and left the issue of the expert to be decided at further hearings later this year. There have been four pre-inquest hearings so far.

Later the families welcomed the coroner's decision to let their legal advisers see copies of security documents held by the FCO and TUI deemed too sensitive to be released to the general public.