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  1. ITV Report

Corfu deaths: Thomas Cook accused of putting costs before customers

Thomas Cook has a tendency to put costs ahead of customer experience, a review of its health and safety practices, following the deaths of two children at one of its resorts, has found.

Bobby and Christi Shepherd, aged six and seven, died when toxic gas leaked from a faulty boiler at the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel on the Greek island in 2006.

Christi and Bobby Shepherd died of carbon monoxide poisoning while on a Thomas Cook holiday in Corfu. Credit: Family handout

In May, an inquest into their deaths found the travel firm had "breached their duty of care", and that they had been unlawfully killed.

Neil Shepherd (front left) and Sharon Wood (centre) faced a nine-year battle for justice.

The report, into Thomas Cook's customer, health, safety, welfare and crisis management, found that processes for crises or incidents which have a major impact on customers "is set up for success and appears to work well".

But the report, carried out by former Sainsbury's chief executive Justin King CBE, concluded that some parts of the business were putting financial priorities ahead of customers' needs.

Individual profit centres such as the 'airline' and 'destination management' (divisions) have a tendency to protect cost rather than maximise the customer experience.

"Their approach is closer to 'What's the minimum we can do to solve the problem?' rather than 'What should we do to make this as good as we can?'. This is a cultural as much as a financial challenge.

– Extract from Justin King's review
Justin King said he hopes the review will help Thomas Cook 'put the customer back at the heart of this business'. Credit: PA

Although the travel firm has a "risk dashboard" process to identify key risks, "there is an over-emphasis on financial and reputational risk and less emphasis on customer consequences and outcomes than is appropriate", the report also found.

In a statement, Thomas Cook, conceded that the review "makes for uncomfortable reading in parts"

We accept the findings and are committed to learning from them and using them as a catalyst to further accelerate the change programme which is already well underway.

– Thomas Cook statement

Chief executive, Peter Fankhauser, said: "Nine years ago, two children died in Corfu while on holiday with us: Robert and Christianne Shepherd. It took us nine years to correct the mistakes of the past and to do what everyone would have expected of us; treat the family with the respect and empathy they deserve.

Thomas Cook chief executive Peter Fankhauser

The travel firm also revealed that the following actions would be taken immediately:

  • A commitment to lead Carbon Monoxide awareness initiatives in the travel industry through the Safer Tourism Foundation established by Thomas Cook with Sharon Wood to be launched on 16th November.
  • Going forward we intend to report on our progress with both customer satisfaction and health and safety as a standard part of our full and half year results to reflect their importance to our business.
  • Increased investment in customer service and the imminent launch of a 24-hour hotel satisfaction promise.
  • Increasing the number of overseas staff and investing in equipment and training.
  • A review of its health and safety audit policy.
  • Customer satisfaction to be introduced as a core indicator of its management performance review with immediate effect.

Booking a holiday is a matter of trust and it is our duty to do everything we can to justify the trust our customers place in us, both now and in the future. We have achieved much already, but there is certainly much more to do. I am confident we are on the right path.

– Thomas Cook chief executive Peter Fankhauser

Responding to the publication of the report, Christi and Bobby parent's Sharon Wood and Neil Shepherd said: "We welcome Justin King’s report and Thomas Cook’s new proactive approach in addressing the mistakes they made that led to the deaths of Christi & Bobby.

Bobby and Christi's parents said: 'It is a move in the right direction'. Credit: Family handout

It is a move in the right direction and the next step in what has been a long, hard fight for justice.

Our hope is that we can bring about change that will dramatically reduce the number of deaths and injuries from carbon monoxide, both in the UK and abroad.

– Bobby and Christi's parents, Sharon Wood and Neil Shepherd