30 British victims of the 2015 terror attack on a hotel in Tunisia were ‘unlawfully killed’, a coroner has ruled.
The tourists were brutally killed in the attack on the five-star Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel, carried out by jihadist Seifeddine Rezgui.
After the coroner’s ruling, families of some of the British victims are preparing civil proceedings against tour operator TUI.
Rejecting calls to rule ‘neglect’ by the travel firm or hotel, Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith said there was nothing staff or owners could have done that would have ‘possibly made a difference’.
However, he said the response by local police was ‘at best shambolic, at worst cowardly’ – adding that they were ‘most certainly’ responsible for ensuring tourist security.
The inquest heard that the hotel had just a handful of unarmed guards, while the ‘cowardly’ local police delayed their arrival to fight Rezgui.
‘Their response could and should have been effective,’ the judge told the victims’ inquest, held at the Royal Courts of Justice.
Rezgui opened fire on the beach and grounds of the Sousse hotel in June 2015, killing 38 people in total.
Lawyers for more than 20 victims had wanted ‘neglect’ included because they said they were not warned of the danger of travelling to Tunisia before they left.
Judge Loraine-Smith said he couldn’t include ‘neglect’ by holiday firm TUI or the hotel’s owners in his ruling, because the law regarding neglect did not cover tourists on holiday.
He did, however, say that there were customers who would not have gone to Tunisia if they had seen the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s travel advice.
‘Even prior to the attack on the Bardo Museum [in March 2015], the advice was that there was a high threat of terror,’ he said.
The judge added, though, that ‘neglect’ only applied in cases where someone had a duty of care towards someone because of their ‘youth, age, illness or incarceration’.
‘That does not cover, it seems to me, tourists who have voluntarily agreed to go on holiday abroad,’ he said.
The judge then said that although in general the response of the hotel staff was ‘disorganised and chaotic’, some of them displayed ‘conspicuous personal courage’ in their efforts to protect guests.
He said this courage was also shown by guests themselves.
But summing up the evidence heard during the six-week inquest, Judge Loraine-Smith referred disparagingly to the response of police and military.
He described one officer who ‘fainted through terror and panic’, and another guard who took his shirt off in order to hide the fact that he was an officer.
One unit even stopped off to pick up more weapons instead of going straight to the scene.
‘They had everything they required to confront the gunman and could have been at the scene within minutes,’ the judge said. ‘The delay was deliberate and unjustifiable.’
With the exception of two marine guards, the judge continued, no police officers entered the hotel grounds until all 38 tourists had been killed.
Victims’ relatives fought back tears as Judge Loraine-Smith ruled on each of the dead in alphabetical order.
He sad: ‘At approximately 11.45am on the morning of June 26, 2015, a terrorist who was armed with a high-velocity firearm and improvised explosive devices began shooting at the tourists who were on the beach at the rear of the Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel in Sousse in the Republic of Tunisia.’