The parents of Robert Shepherd, aged 6 and Christian Shepherd, aged 7 of Horbury, West Yorkshire are due to meet with David Cameron after being refused Legal Aid for representation at the Inquest into the death of their children who died from carbon monoxide poisoning on holiday in Corfu.
The children sadly died from carbon monoxide poisoning emitted from a faulty boiler on a family holiday in 2006.
An application for exceptional funding was made to the Legal Aid Agency to cover the costs of the family being represented at the Inquest. Funding was rejected on the basis that the case did not meet the exceptional circumstances criteria and that Inquests were designed so that legal expertise was not always required.
Both children were significantly overcome by fumes from a faulty gas boiler while on holiday with their parents at the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel in Gouvia, Corfu. The incident was so significant that both parents were left in a coma but thankfully survived.
The Manager of the hotel and 2 other members of staff were convicted of manslaughter. Tour Operator Thomas Cook were cleared of any responsibility for the incident.
The Legal Aid Agency were of the view that Inquests are specifically designed so people without any legal knowledge can easily participate in the Inquest process and have a full understanding of what happens.
In this Inquest, it is more than likely that Thomas Cook, who are a large organisation, will be legally represented. There will be a significant amount of disclosure in this case and complex evidence that needs to be understood and put to witnesses. The Inquest can be a very difficult and distressing process for many families and in a majority of cases, they do not have the capability to skilfully cross-examine witnesses and understand potential verdicts.
The Inquest process should be a level playing field and this is a prime example of how bereaved families can be put at a disadvantage when funding is not secured and they do not have the financial means to fund representation themselves.
It is important that all those involved in the Inquest process, including the Legal Aid Agency, bear in mind the desire of the Chief Coroner to put bereaved families at the heart of the Inquest process. We must ask how this can be achieved without representation in these types of Inquests.
Mr Cameron agreed to meet the family after the issue was raised by the family’s local MP during Prime Minister’s questions.
Here at Farleys we have a team of Inquest Solicitors experienced in applying for exceptional funding and are experienced in making applications for refusals of funding to be appealed and potentially judicially reviewed.
For more information or to speak to one of our lawyers about legal representation at Inquest, please do not hesitate to contact us.
By Kelly Darlington, Inquest Solicitor