Tunisia beach attack inquest: 30 Britons 'unlawfully killed'
Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith says little could have been done to prevent Sousse massacre
The 30 Britons shot dead by a terrorist on a Tunisian tourist beach two years ago were unlawfully killed, an inquest at the Royal Courts of Justice has ruled.
Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith said little could have been done to prevent the massacre at the five-star Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel resort on 26 June 2015.
The hotel staff's response to the shooting spree was "disorganised and chaotic", he said, but the six-week inquest had not convinced him that better planning or security would have made a significant difference. Loraine-Smith added that individual staff members had shown great courage.
The coroner said the only foreseeable way in which the attack could have been stopped or curtailed sooner was if the hotel guards had been armed, but he acknowledged that this was "unrealistic" as it would be incompatible with Tunisian gun laws.
However, he condemned the response of Tunisian police as "at best shambolic and at worst cowardly".
The inquest heard that "with the exception of two marine guards, no police entered the hotel grounds until the gunman had killed all 38 tourists", the Daily Telegraph reports. Loraine-Smith said that delay was "deliberate and unjustifiable".
The inquest also heard allegations by several of the victims' families that tour operator Thomson failed to make their relatives aware of government travel safety warnings about Tunisia.
In addition, it was told that two days after the terrorist attack on the Bardo National Museum in March 2015 – three months before the Sousse attack – the Foreign Office updated Tunisia travel advice on its website to reflect the increased danger.
Andrew Flintham, commercial director of Thomson parent company TUI, agreed that the travel agency did not reflect the official government advice in its brochures or on the website.
However, the coroner said he could not include "neglect" on the part of TUI or the hotel in his ruling on the deaths because the law did not cover holidaymakers abroad.
Preparing to formally end the inquest, Loraine-Smith said: "The simple but tragic truth in this case is that a gunman armed with a gun and grenades went to that hotel intending to kill as many tourists as he could."
Tunisia attacks: What will London inquests establish?
An inquest into the 2015 Tunisia beach shooting, in which 30 British holidaymakers were killed, opened at the Royal Courts of Justice in London today.
The hearings are expected to last at least six weeks, with live feeds transmitted to courts in Cardiff and Stirling to enable survivors and victims' families to watch the proceedings.
On 26 June 2015, Seifeddine Rezgui, a gunman affiliated with Islamic State, opened fire on a busy beach next to the Hotel Imperial Marhaba in the popular Tunisian tourist town of Sousse.
During an 11-minute rampage, 38 holidaymakers were shot dead, 30 of them from the UK, making it the deadliest terror attack on British citizens since the July 2005 London Underground bombings.
What will the inquests determine?
Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith, using expert testimony and witness accounts, will seek to establish an exact timetable of how the attack unfolded and the circumstances of the deaths.
"The family of each British citizen who was killed has been allocated a day when specific evidence will be heard about how they died," Sky News reports.
However, for the families, the inquest is "as much about learning lessons and preventing future deaths as it is about the minute-by-minute accounts", says the BBC's Sarah Campbell.
Evidence will be given as to whether TUI, the parent company of the resort's tour operator Thomson, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) did all they could to protect British tourists.
Despite the FCO upgrading Tunisia to a "high risk" destination after 22 tourists were killed in an attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis in March 2015, "some of the families of those caught up in the beach shooting said they had been assured it was safe to travel to Tunisia", The Independent reports.
What have the families said?
Andrew Ritchie QC, representing 20 families, said his clients were not convinced their relatives knew of the Foreign Office's warnings when they booked their holiday. They were also were also potentially concerned about the FCO "having cosy chats" with travel companies interested in running profitable businesses despite advice at the time that there was a high risk of terrorist activity.
Mark Stocker doubts his parents John and Janet, who were killed in the attack, were made aware of the advice when they booked what they thought was a bargain holiday.
He told Sky News: "When they looked at Tunisia, the prices had dropped drastically. It came to light that between March and June the prices had dropped 40 per cent.
"My dad was like, 'Look at the holiday I'm getting. A five star hotel with all the trimmings. It's cheaper than Spain.'"
TUI said it wants to understand the specific circumstances that led to the killings, says the Daily Telegraph, which adds the company "said it does not accept the accuracy of all the statements that have been made".