Boss declines gas deaths questions

Published: Thursday 7th May 2015 by The News Editor

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A former Thomas Cook boss has refused to answer questions put to him by a coroner about the deaths of two children from carbon monoxide poisoning while on holiday in Greece.

Manny Fontenia-Nova was giving evidence at the hearing in Wakefield into the deaths of Christi and Bobby Shepherd, aged seven and six, who died at a hotel complex in Corfu in October 2006.

Coroner David Hinchliff warned the travel agent’s ex-chief executive that he did not have to answer any questions which might incriminate him.

Mr Hinchliff then started to take the witness through a statement he made to police in 2009.

After confirming his name and that he is no longer chief executive, Mr Fontenia-Nova was asked to confirm that he said in his statement: “The deaths of Robert and Christianne Shepherd are very significant events in the company’s history as they are the only customers of Thomas Cook to have died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Since their deaths in October 2006, this awful tragedy has been a major priority occupying my attention and also the attention of all my senior management and the board.”

He replied: “I decline to answer that.”

The coroner asked Mr Fontenia-Nova to confirm that his statement said: “I believe every employee employed by Thomas Cook has been impacted by this tragedy and we have made every effort to consider the best interests of the family.”

He replied: “I decline to answer that.”

Continuing with the statement, the coroner said: “As a father myself, I have the utmost sympathy for the family.”

Mr Hinchliff asked: “That is still the case?”

Mr Fontenia-Nova replied: “It is.”

According to the statement read by the coroner, Mr Fontenia-Nova was group chief executive officer of Thomas Cook Group plc in 2009 but he said that in October 2006 he was chief executive of Thomas Cook UK and Ireland.

He said in his statement that Thomas Cook Group in 2009 was a FTSE 100 company with worldwide sales of £8.5 billion and 22.3 million customers.

Invited to “look my clients in the eyes” and express his sympathy by Leslie Thomas QC, representing the children’s family, Mr Fontenia-Nova said: “I deeply regret the incident that occurred.”

He turned to look at Christi and Bobby’s parents as he said the words and repeated them when he was asked by the barrister to speak louder

The children’s mother, Sharon Wood, said from the public gallery: “Speak up for yourself, then.”

The family were sitting about five metres away, just behind their legal representatives.

Mr Thomas began his questioning by asking the former chief executive: “I’m going to suggest to you that what was more important to Thomas Cook was profit so Thomas Cook put profit before safety.”

Mr Fontenia-Nova said: “I decline to answer.”

The jury at the inquests has heard how the children were on a half-term break with their father Neil and his partner, now wife, Ruth, when the tragedy happened.

They were found dead in a bungalow in the grounds of the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel by a chambermaid. Mr and Mrs Shepherd were found in comas but later recovered.

The jury has heard how Bobby and Christi were poisoned by carbon monoxide from a faulty hot water boiler housed in an outbuilding.

The inquest has been told of a series of faults with the boiler and that Thomas Cook claimed it was told by the hotel there was no gas supply at all.

Published: Thursday 7th May 2015 by The News Editor

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