Lives could have been saved if travel firm had carried out security checks

Denis and Elaine Thwaites
Denis and Elaine Thwaites

Lives could have been saved if a travel company had carried out a security audit before the Sousse terrorist attack instead of an assessment after it, an inquest has heard.

The hearing into the deaths of 30 British holidaymakers in the resort in Tunisia in June 2015 heard that TUI did not carry out frequent security risk assessments on resorts or hotels before the atrocity.

The inquest at the Royal Courts of Justice in London heard that TUI appointed security consultancy company Covenant to carry out an audit in the resort in July, excluding the five-star Riu Imperial Marhaba hotel where the attack had just taken place.

In a witness statement, Jacque Reynolds, a director of risk and compliance for TUI, based in the UK, said: “TUI did not carry out regular security risk assessments of resorts or hotels prior to the Sousse attack. The only security reviews (of hotels) that had been commissioned before then were in Egypt.”

Covenant’s briefing note after its audit said that staff’s understanding was considered to be “weak”, and a section with the heading “Emergency plans and procedures” said: “The current level of emergency planning and the associated procedures such as evacuation and invacuation need to be enhanced to meet the challenges of the evolving security situation.

“A best guess at this is simply not good enough. This is something that should be designed by security specialists alongside the hotel management because they will need to understand the plans and procedures and also communicate them to their staff together.”

The briefing note in July came soon after the Sousse attack and three months after another terror attack at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis.

Andrew Ritchie QC, counsel for the families of the victims, put it to Ms Reynolds that, had TUI instigated the security audit after the Bardo attack, the company had 11 weeks to make changes, and “might have saved quite a few lives by having those things in place”.

He also said to the witness: “I put it to you that TUI should have audited security on paper or by sending an expert adviser when the FCO (Foreign Office) advised there was a high risk of terror activity after Bardo. Would you agree with that?”

She said she did not agree, adding: “We were told on numerous occasions that the advice wouldn’t be changing.”

Ms Reynolds said that a reason security did not form part of safety audits was because of the conditions and circumstances of security being “variable”, in contrast with the more static nature of swimming pool depths for example.

Mr Ritchie said: “May I put it to you that if the security is variable that’s the whole reason you audit.”

She agreed with Mr Ritchie’s summary that TUI “relied on hotels and local authorities” regarding these matters.

Extremist Seifeddine Rezgui massacred 38 tourists - Blackpool couple Denis and Elaine Thwaites - on June 26, 2015, at the Riu Imperial Marhaba hotel.