Britain brings back massacre dead

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Published: Wednesday 1st July 2015 by The News Editor

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The operation to return the bodies of Britons killed by a gunman in the Tunisian beach massacre to the UK begins today.

The first RAF flights carrying the bodies of Britons will arrive at Brize Norton, with the repatriation process expected to take a number of days.

Some 24 Britons are now confirmed to be among the 38 shot dead by 23-year-old student Seifeddine Rezgui at the beach resort of Sousse on Friday, and the British death toll is expected to rise to 30.

All wounded Britons have been brought back to the UK, with four severely injured holidaymakers flown home in an RAF C17 transport plane accompanied by “medevac” teams. They are being treated at hospitals in Birmingham, Oxford, Plymouth and London.

Among the four is Allison Heathcote, 48, from Felixstowe, Suffolk, who was celebrating her 30th wedding anniversary when she was gunned down.

She was shot repeatedly in her stomach and shoulder and was pictured shortly after the attack in her pink bikini lying immobile on a sun lounger as hotel staff tended to her wounds. Her husband Philip, 52, was killed in the terror attack and she has since undergone surgery at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, where she is in a critical condition.

A single inquest covering all the British dead is to be opened by the West London coroner.

The latest victims to be named include James and Anne McQuire from Cumbernauld, and Billy and Lisa Graham from Bankfoot, near Perth, who were visiting the resort to celebrate Mrs Graham’s 50th birthday.

The family of Janet and John Stocker, aged 63 and 74, have confirmed “with regret and great sadness” that the “happiest, most loving” couple died in the Tunisia shootings.

Their family said in a statement: ” Mum and Dad were the happiest, most loving couple who enjoyed life’s simple pleasures as well as the pleasures and love of their extensive family and their many friends, but most of all they were still very much in love with each other.”

Tunisian authorities are questioning several suspected associates of Rezgui, who had links to the terror group Islamic State (IS).

They have said he acted alone during the rampage but had accomplices who supported him before, providing him with weapons and logistical support.

Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi said an investigation was under way into security failures and there would be armed tourist police on beaches.

A minute’s silence will be held in memory of the victims at noon on Friday, a week after the outrage. Flags are expected to be flown at half-mast over government departments and Buckingham Palace that day.

A group understood to be relatives of some of the British dead were among scores of people, local and European, who left flowers and messages at the memorials to the victims on the beach at Sousse yesterday.

The group, escorted by security guards, left bouquets with a message saying: “Taken too soon, missed by so many, always in our thoughts, lots of love, Denise, Paul, Mark, Kelly, Lee.”

Armed police continued to patrol the beach in front of the five-star hotels, which are are now almost empty at what should be a peak part of the tourist season.

Nick Longman, managing director of Thomson and First Choice, also confirmed that 22 British people positively identified as victims were customers of the tour operators.

He said: “Over the coming days, our priority remains to care for the bereaved, the injured, and to bring all those who wish to return to the UK home on our additional flights.

“We have returned 4,000 customers to date on 25 flights. We have a further 15 empty flights going out to Tunisia in the next two days bringing back a further 1,900 customers. Any remaining customers are those who have chosen to stay there.

“We would like to thank our customers for their patience as we manage the logistical challenges that this incident brings.”

He added: “This was a tragic incident and we are doing all we can to ease the suffering of the customers and staff in our care. We are devastated by this event and the tragic loss of life and the terrible pain this has caused to all involved.”

A key strand of the Government’s strategy to counter extremism is coming into force today. New legislation passed earlier this year places a statutory duty on bodies including prisons, schools and universities to prevent radicalisation.

Police, soldiers, emergency services and intelligence officials also took part in London’s largest counter-terrorism exercise, an operation that was organised before Friday’s terror attack.

Published: Wednesday 1st July 2015 by The News Editor

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