British deaths in Tunisia attack likely to rise above 15, says Theresa May

2019-08-22 09:09:22


The death toll of British victims of the Islamist gunman who killed 38 people at a Tunisian beach resort is expected to rise above the current tally of 15, with a series of anguished relatives saying they are still awaiting news about loved ones.

The home secretary, , who chaired a meeting of the government’s Cobra security committee on Sunday, said the confirmed number of British dead after Friday’s massacre at Sousse remained at 15, but was expected to rise.

May said she was sending another team to assist injured Britons, and expanding a unit examining security in the area. British consular staff in were working around the clock to provide information, she added.

More than 48 hours after Seifeddine Rezgui walked down a beach and into a hotel firing a Kalashnikov automatic rifle, however, some families were left to fear the worst in the absence of confirmed news of relatives who were on holiday in Sousse.

Adam Fisher, from Redhill in Surrey, told the BBC he had not spoken to his parents since they left for their holiday. “I’ve been in touch with the Foreign Office, but they won’t give any information out,” he said. “I don’t know what to do.”

Mark Stocker has asked for help in locating his father and stepmother, John and Janet. “We’ve spoken to every hospital in Sousse and surrounding areas,” he told Sky News. “One of my brothers managed to speak to someone in the hotel. They’ve gone and checked their room but their stuff is still in there.”

The family of Denis and Elaine Thwaites, aged 70 and 69, from Blackpool in Lancashire, were initially told they had been hurt in the attack, but then learned the information they had been given was incorrect. “We are now back to square one and fearing the worst,” said their son-in-law, Danny Clifford. “We are thinking of flying out there, because we can’t get anything out of the Foreign Office. We just need to know. We are absolutely frantic.”

Holly Graham from Perth, Scotland, has asked her local MP, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheik, for help after hearing no news from her parents, who were staying in one of the hotels where the attack took place.

Asked about the delays, May said the process of naming victims was difficult because those killed on the beach might not have had identification with them. “The process is a complex one. And it is of course imperative that we get it absolutely right for families, and that can sometimes take time,” she said.

David Cameron in memory of the victims.

Reports suggested Rezgui, a student, was targeting tourists, and Tunisian workers have said he ordered them to run away. But May told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show she did not believe Britons were singled out.

“As you’ll appreciate, this is still an ongoing investigation and we’re working very closely with the Tunisian authorities in relation to this,” she said. “I’ve seen no evidence so far that this was targeted because there were British tourists there.

“But of course we must recognise that this is the most significant loss of British life in a terrorist attack since 7/7 in the UK.”

Thousands of Britons were flew home from Tunisia on Sunday. Thomas Cook said 1,100 of its customers had left, and Tui, which owns Thomson and First Choice, said it was flying people back on 12 planes.

More details emerged about , who also include people from Ireland, Germany and Belgium. Among the British dead are known to be three generations of the same family: Joel Richards, 19, a student, his uncle Adrian Evans, 49, a gas services manager from Tipton in the West Midlands, and his grandfather. Owen Richards, Joel’s 16-year-old brother, survived the attack.

Victims: top, from left – Lorna Carty, Eileen Swannack, John Welch and Sue Davey. Bottom, from left – Carly Lovett, Scott Chalkley, Joel Richards and Adrian Evans. Photograph: Agencies

The University of Worcester’s vice-chancellor and chief executive, Professor David Green, where Joel Richards was a student, paid tribute to him.

“It is with enormous sadness that we have learned, through media reports, of the murder of our student Joel Richards in the terrible terrorist attack in Tunisia,” he said. “At Worcester, Joel has shown himself to be a highly intelligent, talented young man and an all-round outstanding person with a truly bright future ahead.”

Also confirmed killed were Carly Lovett, 24, a photographer and beauty blogger; Sue Davey and Scott Chalkley, a couple in their 40s ; Lisa Burbidge from Whickham, Gateshead; and Jim and Ann McQuire from Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire.

Another victim, Trudy Jones, from Blackwood in Gwent, south Wales, was named by her local MP, Chris Evans.

Bruce Wilkinson, 72, from Goole, East Yorkshire, was also named. His family said in a statement: “Bruce was a loving family man, and in his working life worked to support the care of others. He was fun-loving, and will be deeply missed by friends and family alike.”

Three Irish nationals have also been confirmed among the dead: Lorna Carty, a nurse from Robinstown, Co Meath; and Laurence and Martina Hayes, a couple in their 50s from Co Westmeath.

Official remains unchanged, but the Foreign Office said further attacks were possible, “including by individuals who are unknown to the authorities and whose actions are inspired by terrorist groups via social media”.

There were also new details about the attack. The as saying Rezgui paused at one point to wash his hands and face in the sea, then turned to Tunisian hotel staff who were trying to drag away injured tourists. “He fired his Kalashnikov into the air and yelled ‘Run! Get away! I’m not here to kill you,’ ” Ibrahim Ghrib, 23, a lifeguard, told the paper.

Another young Tunisian told Agence France-Presse the gunman had shouted at him and other locals. “The terrorist told us ‘Stay away, I didn’t come for you.’ He did not fire at us. He fired at the tourists.”

A Tunisian builder said he had helped to stop the attack by knocking the gunman over with tiles thrown from a roof, allowing police to shoot him. The man he saw Rezgui escape down an alleyway after the shooting and threw the tiles, yelling: “You terrorist, you dog.” Rezgui fell to the floor, and got up shooting wildly, allowing police to catch him, he said.

On Saturday evening, tourists joined local people for a candlelit vigil. Some people held posters saying “Peace” and “Sousse will never die”.

It is the second major attack in Tunisia this year. In March, 21 people, mainly tourists, died when an Islamist-inspired gunman fired on visitors arriving at the Bardo museum in Tunis.