On 26 June 2015, the world was shocked by the ISIS-inspired terrorist attack in Sousse, Tunisia. This tragic event came less than four months after the terrorist attack at the Bardo National Museum in the capital city of Tunisia where over 20 people lost their lives and many more were injured.
The Sousse beach attack resulted in the deaths of 38 people, including 30 British holidaymakers, and serious injuries to almost 40 others.
The ruling of Coroner, Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith, on 28 February 2017 concludes a six-week hearing into the attacks that heard evidence and legal representations from the victims' families and from the Tour Operator, TUI UK Limited (which owns the travel company Thomson). The Coroner’s findings were an indictment of the actions of the police described as "at best shambolic and at worst cowardly" by the Coroner.
The Inquest heard that unarmed Tunisian officers near the scene reportedly ran in the opposite direction whilst the gunman carried out his attack on the beach, before he entered the hotel to kill more victims.
The Coroner also heard evidence that one of the offices “fainted in fear” upon arrival at the scene.
However, the Coroner added that a direct and causal link between the response of armed officers and the deaths could not be found.
Whilst the hotel security guards were unarmed, it was found that an armed presence “might have made a difference”, although a review of Tunisian gun law deemed this to not be a realistic option.
In his ruling, the Coroner also found that “better” hotel security may have only resulted in more people being attacked and killed on the beach.
The Coroner had earlier rejected a finding of ‘neglect’ against the Tour Operators and its affiliated hotels, a claim put forward by victims’ families but denied by the Tour Operator.
The Coroner explained that he was unable to find neglect on the basis that the existing case law on neglect did not extend to those victims who agreed to be present, by way of a voluntary holiday.
Following the Inquest’s conclusions, many of the victims’ families and those injured in the terrorist incident declared they were considering taking formal legal proceedings against the Tour Operator, TUI UK Limited.
All British holiday-makers that died in the attack reportedly booked their holiday through this Tour Operator.
The inquest heard evidence from the families of victims of the attack about the assurances they received from TUI before their holiday, particularly considering the attack in Tunis several months earlier.
One victim alleged they had been assured that the previous incident was a “one-off” and the resort was “100% safe”, an allegation denied by TUI.
The Coroner went on to analyse a document (described as a “crib sheet”) that was circulated by TUI to its staff detailing how to answer customer questions as to their safety on holiday in Tunisia.
Staff were allegedly instructed to advise customers that it was “business as usual” and that the Foreign Office’s overall travel advice had not changed.
It was reported that, whilst the Foreign Office had not advised against travelling to Tunisia, the official stance warned that the Country was under a "high threat from terrorism” and that "attacks could be indiscriminate including in places visited by foreigners.”
According to reports a “crib sheet” produced by the travel company for members of staff made no mention of advising of any such risk of terrorism.
Upon the commencement of any civil circumstances
Whilst the findings of the Coroner at the inquest will be considered in evidence in any civil claim, it will be for the judge in those proceedings to consider all the evidence and conclude on any civil liability of the Tour Operator to the victims and their families.
The events of 2015 are just one incident in a long line of terror attacks that seek to target innocent people.
With British holiday-makers being considered a target risk, the extent of the Tour Operator’s duty of care is being highlighted.
How far does the scope of their duty extend in situations involving acts of terrorism? Every case will turn on its own facts but it is crucial that lessons are learnt from this tragedy to ensure that holiday-makers are as safe as possible in the future.
Tips for holiday-makers: For advice before you travel, check the Foreign Office website for updates as to potential risks and terror threats.