Holiday chiefs 'didn't want to scare Tunisia tourists with army of police'


Tour operators wanted to increase security in Sousse before 38 people were killed in a terrorist attack, but did not want holidaymakers to be "scared by seeing an army of police", an inquest has heard. 

The hearing into the deaths of 30 Britons in the Tunisian resort in June 2015 was told that in a meeting a month before the attack there was a discussion about police security and how it could make tourists feel "uncomfortable".

Venancio Lopez, managing director of Tunisie Voyages - a subsidiary of travel company TUI - flew to London to give evidence in the inquests at the Royal Courts of Justice.

He said he was at a meeting with British Embassy officials on May 25 2015 in Tunis - two months after the terror attack at the Bardo National Museum and one month before the Sousse atrocity.

The inquest heard that Mr Lopez had a list of points he wanted the British Embassy to raise with Tunisian authorities, including the matter of police security.

Security in the resorts, and how visible it should be, was discussed, and Mr Lopez said: "If security is too evident they feel uncomfortable in the street."

In his statement to the inquest, he said: "We wanted to increase the security in general but we didn't want tourists to be scared by seeing an army of police."

The inquest heard that it was decided that hotels should have metal detectors, staff should monitor CCTV, that police should patrol the beaches and there would be an extra 400 officers.

Extremist Seifeddine Rezgui massacred tourists - including three Irish citizens - on June 26 at the five-star Riu Imperial Marhaba hotel.

Andrew Ritchie QC, representing victims' families, told the inquest that, according to a statement from another witness, it was the responsibility of Mr Lopez to "deliver a holiday that exceeded expectations".

He asked Mr Lopez why TUI UK sent him to meetings about security, suggesting to him that he was sent because he was the only person there.

Mr Ritchie asked the witness: "At any time between the end of March and the 26th of June were you asked by TUI UK to go round the Imperial Marhaba hotel to see if improvements had been made in security?"

He said: "No."

In relation to security guards, Mr Ritchie read an extract from Mr Lopez's statement which said: "In my experience not all hotels we used had their own security guards. The four- and five-star hotels tended to."

The statement from Mr Lopez also said the guards were never armed and that he believed it was against the law for the guards to be armed.

But Mr Ritchie said the coroner had obtained advice from a legal firm which suggested that there was indeed a route for hotels to arm their guards.

The inquest heard that out of nine hotels, the Imperial Marhaba had the fewest cameras with six in total, while other hotels had up to 49.

Meanwhile, Mr Ritchie raised the disclosure of documents from TUI which he said has left him with concerns "about whether this inquest can continue".

But Coroner Nicholas Loraine-Smith said: "The last thing in the world I want is for this inquest to be delayed".

Later, Mr Ritchie told the coroner: "The families want to continue if it's at all possible."

And Judge Loraine-Smith said: "Of course they do."