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Thailand Bus Crash: Parents Of Killed Teens Call For More Warnings From Foreign Office

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POLLY COOK
Polly Cook, mother of Max Boomgaarden-Cook, spoke outside an inquest at Southwark Coroner's Court | PA

Parents of three teenagers killed in a horrific coach crash during their gap year in Thailand have called for the Foreign Office to issue more warnings about the dangers of bus travel in the country.

Bruno Melling-Firth, Conrad Quashie and Max Boomgaarden-Cook were on a coach bound for the northern town of Chiang Mai when it pulled across a six-lane highway into the path of an oncoming bus in the early hours of June 28 2011.

The students, all 19 and from south London, were just days into a nine-week trip, along with a fourth friend who escaped the accident with minor injuries.

They were on a coach on their way from Bangkok to Chiang Mai when the crash happened in Khlong Khlung, in the Kamphaeng Phet Province, shortly after midnight.

An inquest at Southwark Coroner's Court today heard the boys had not done a great deal of research into bus travel in the country, and their parents told the court they had no idea of the dangers of coach travel in the country.

Coroner Dr Andrew Harris said he would write to the Foreign Office to suggest it publishes the same extensive warnings about bus travel as it does about motorcycle travel.

Recording narrative verdicts, he said the trio were on board a Hino tourist bus which was just leaving a petrol station where it had stopped for a break.

"The bus in which the deceased was travelling took a wrong turn exiting the petrol station to make a u-turn in a turning point in the middle of the highway, placing it in the path of another bus which was overtaking at the time," he said.

The inquest heard the parents of all three boys had collected information about the huge number of road traffic accidents in Thailand, and felt although there were warnings about motorcycles on the Foreign Office website, there was not enough about the dangers of buses and coaches.

After the hearing, Max's mother Polly Cook said: "We want them (the Foreign Office) to update their website to include the fact that the roads are hugely dangerous.

"We would like the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) to update its website to the level that the US does, indicating that it's extremely dangerous travelling by road."

The inquest heard a statement from Jack Beagley, now 20, who was on the trip with the trio before they started university.

He said they had booked their flights, but no other transport, and had been in Bangkok for four days when they bought their coach tickets to Chiang Mai from an internet cafe for the equivalent of £5 to £10.

"We hoped to travel around all of south-east Asia and did not really research transport in Thailand before we went on holiday," he said.

He added that they still probably would have taken the same trip if they had known the risks, but would have "thought twice about buying the cheapest tickets".

The inquest heard the teenagers were picked up in the evening.

"The coach was very basic, the air conditioning didn't work and it was clear the coach was old," he said.

"I don't remember there being any seatbelts on the coach."

He explained that they stopped twice and the second time pulled into a petrol station where they got some "disgusting" food.

As they pulled out of the petrol station, Mr Beagley said he remembered the driver stopping for what he thought was too long, as there was little traffic on the road.

"I can't think of any reason for the coach to wait as long as it did, I didn't see any traffic, and I think the coach could have turned right immediately," he said.

He described seeing lights approach the coach, "all of a sudden that coach crashed into our coach".

"It happened so quickly we didn't have time to move from our seats or brace ourselves," he said.

In the aftermath of the crash, Mr Beagley said he "understood immediately" that his friends had been killed.

The inquest heard that as well as the three Britons, a Korean tourist died in the crash, as well as the driver of the other bus.

Chan Noisri is reported to have been jailed for two years for driving offences after the accident - the inquest only heard there had been a "successful prosecution" in the case.

Gillian Melling, Bruno's mother, said she had left the boys to their preparations and said she had "presumed wrongly" that coaches would be regulated.

She said figures suggested there were around 12,000 people killed in accidents each year in Thailand, compared to 3,000 in the UK, and claimed these figures were "massages" to make them less damning.

Ms Melling told the inquest she wanted the foreign office to "take responsibility for their British citizens".

"It would not take much, just a paragraph stating specifically that there's a huge amount of unregulated transport out there," she said.

"I had an idea of every other danger except buses, travelling by road, apart from motorcycles."

Mr Boomgaarden-Cook died of a severe head injury, Mr Melling-Firth died of multiple injuries, and Mr Quashie died of a head injury.

Coroner Dr Harris said: "This has been a harrowing and tragic inquest.

"It's never easy to hear an inquest into the deaths of young people."

He said he would write to the Foreign Office, telling the court: "It does seem to me to be a reasonable and sensible solution to make that I could ask the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that if they have any evidence of unregulated bus travel that they should give the same warning for bus travel as they do for motorcycles."

An FCO spokeswoman said: "This was a tragic loss of three young lives and our thoughts remain with the family and friends of those who died.

"Our travel advice is kept under constant review and the safety of British nationals is of paramount importance to the FCO."

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