NEWS
01/07/2015 07:58 BST | Updated 01/07/2016 06:12 BST

Beach Massacre Dead To Return Home

The operation to return the bodies of Britons killed by a gunman in the Tunisian beach massacre to the UK has begun.

The first RAF flights left Britain early this morning and will carry the bodies of Britons back to Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, with the repatriation process expected to take a number of days.

Some 24 Britons are now confirmed to be among the 38 shot dead by student Seifeddine Rezgui, 23, at the beach resort of Sousse on Friday. The British death toll is expected to rise to 30.

All wounded Britons have been brought back to the UK, with four severely injured holidaymakers flown home in an RAF C17 transport plane accompanied by "medevac" teams.

They are being treated at hospitals in Birmingham, Oxford, Plymouth and London.

Among the four is Allison Heathcote, 48, from Felixstowe, Suffolk, who was celebrating her 30th wedding anniversary when she was gunned down.

She was shot repeatedly in her stomach and shoulder and was pictured shortly after the attack in her pink bikini lying immobile on a sun lounger as hotel staff tended to her wounds.

Her husband Philip, 52, was killed in the terror attack. She has undergone surgery at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, where she is in a critical condition.

A single inquest covering all the British dead is to be opened by the West London coroner.

The latest victims to be named include James and Anne McQuire from Cumbernauld, and Billy and Lisa Graham from Bankfoot, near Perth, who were visiting the resort to celebrate Mrs Graham's 50th birthday.

The family of Janet and John Stocker, aged 63 and 74, have confirmed "with regret and great sadness" that the "happiest, most loving" couple died in the Tunisia shootings.

Their family said in a statement: "Mum and dad were the happiest, most loving couple who enjoyed life's simple pleasures as well as the pleasures and love of their extensive family and their many friends, but most of all they were still very much in love with each other."

Tunisian authorities are questioning several suspected associates of Rezgui, who had links to the terror group Islamic State (IS).

They have said he acted alone during the rampage but had accomplices who supported him before, providing him with weapons and logistical support.

Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi said an investigation was under way into security failures and there would be armed tourist police on beaches.

A minute's silence will be held in memory of the victims at noon on Friday, a week after the outrage. Flags are expected to be flown at half-mast over government departments and Buckingham Palace that day.

A group understood to be relatives of some of the British dead were among scores of people, local and European, who left flowers and messages at the memorials to the victims on the beach at Sousse yesterday.

The group, escorted by security guards, left bouquets with a message saying: "Taken too soon, missed by so many, always in our thoughts, lots of love, Denise, Paul, Mark, Kelly, Lee."

Armed police continued to patrol the beach in front of the five-star hotels, which are now almost empty at what should be a peak part of the tourist season.

Nick Longman, managing director of Thomson and First Choice, confirmed that 22 British people positively identified as victims were customers of the tour operators.

A key strand of the Government's strategy to counter extremism is coming into force today. New legislation passed earlier this year places a statutory duty on bodies including prisons, schools and universities to prevent radicalisation.

Police, soldiers, emergency services and intelligence officials also took part in London's largest counter-terrorism exercise, an operation organised before Friday's terror attack.

Rezgui was under the influence of drugs when he carried out the killings, according to reports.

A leaked post-mortem examination report revealed he had high levels of stimulant drugs in his system, The Sun said.

The paper quoted a National Guard officer who reportedly shot the gunman dead as saying: "He seemed to be under the effects of drugs. He was not afraid to die."