- John and Susan Cooper died suddenly on 21 August
- Their bodies will be repatriated next week
- Family sued Thomas Cook over illness at same hotel last month
In the latest twist in the tragic story of a couple who died while on holiday in Egypt, it has been reported that two other people evacuated from the same resort were found to have the bacterial infection shigella.
The mother and her young daughter were a part of a family of four who fell ill while on holiday in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada, according to the Daily Telegraph. The family were told by an environmental health officer that samples showed they were suffering from the infection.
They were among the guests evacuated from the Steigenberger Aqua Magic hotel after John and Susan Cooper died suddenly on 21 August.
Shigella is a highly infectious condition which can cause diarrhoea and stomach cramps, and is a common cause of food poisoning.
A lawyer for the unnamed family said it was a “crucial development”, and could indicate that “pathogens were present at the property”.
Nick Harris, from law firm Simpson Millar, told the paper: “If you have an illness problem in an all-inclusive property with several hundred guests moving around, you can either close the place for a deep clean or attempt to deal with it while the guests remain in situ.
“If you believe it’s in the water, additional chlorine might be added to it in an attempt to kill the bug, so it’s important to find out things such as what the Coopers drank that evening before they collapsed.
“If there was a sickness bug that the hotel knew about, how did they deal with it?”
Thomas Cook moved 300 guests out of the hotel as a precaution 24 hours after Mr and Mrs Cooper died after becoming aware of an increased number of illnesses.
Chief executive Peter Fankhauser previously confirmed that 13 customers had food poisoning but were not in a serious condition.
Fankhauser flew to Cairo on Wednesday to discuss the deaths with prime minister Dr Mostafa Madbouly and minister of tourism Rania Al-Mashat.
Following the meeting, Al-Mashat said “detailed autopsies” were being conducted by a team of forensic pathologists. The process is expected to be concluded next week.
She said: “When the pathologists have completed their detailed forensic analysis our priority will be, of course, to then contact the Cooper family in England to explain the findings as they, more than anyone, need to know what took away John and Susan.
“Their bodies will then be repatriated next week with the Cooper family in England.”
A separate investigation led by Egyptian prosecutor Nabil Sadeq is testing food, water and air conditioning at the hotel. This will be “robust, thorough and independent”, Al-Mashat insisted.
Sadeq has previously said an inspection of the Coopers’ hotel bedroom found no harmful gas emissions or leaks.
Al-Mashat added: “It is crucial for everyone involved in the tragic passing away of John and Susan, none more so than the grieving Cooper family, that we get to the bottom of the matter and determine the truth based on evidence.”
A Thomas Cook spokesman said Fankhauser “reiterated his personal commitment, and the commitment of everyone at Thomas Cook, to get to the bottom of what went wrong”.
The chief executive also met with British Ambassador to Egypt, John Casson, and Deputy Head of Mission, Helen Winterton.
Thomas Cook pledged to continue to work with the Egyptian authorities and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to “prioritise the very best interests of the Cooper family”.
The spokesman added: “The well-being of our customers in Egypt remains of paramount importance.”
Thomas Cook has commissioned its own tests into food hygiene and air conditioning at the hotel, although it has not been granted access to the Coopers’ room. The results are due in the middle of next week.
Meanwhile it has emerged that Thomas Cook was successfully sued last month after a family suffered gastric illness while staying at the same hotel, according to a law firm.
The family of four from South Wales accused the tour operator of failing to ensure food and drink at the hotel was “safe for human consumption” and permitted food to be “re-served or re-sued on more than one occasion.”
Manchester law firm JMW Solicitors, who acted for the family, said Newport County Court ordered Thomas Cook to pay £26,000 in compensation costs.
The claimants became ill while staying at the Steigenberger Aqua Magic Hotel on a Thomas Cook package holiday in April 2016.
They claimed they suffered stomach illnesses for around two months and the case went to trial after Thomas Cook denied liability.
Joanne Brine, a partner at JMW Solicitors, said the firm commissioned a handwriting expert who found the that the hotel’s food temperature and cleaning records were completed by one person, despite four different people apparently signing the entries.
She went on: “It’s very sad to hear of the deaths of John and Susan Cooper on what should have been a happy family holiday, yet also incredibly concerning given our experience with this hotel in regards to hygiene standards.
“The fact that we have brought concerns to Thomas Cook’s attention about the accuracy and reliability of the Steigenberger Aqua Magic Hotel’s record-keeping should set off alarm bells for those investigating what the failings of the management team to safeguard the health of its guests may have been on this occasion.
“I sincerely hope that a thorough investigation will make sure that the family get the answers they need to understand exactly what happened inside that hotel room and to ensure the safety of future holidaymakers is prioritised.”
Thomas Cook said in a statement: “The safety and well-being of our customers is always our first priority and we would never send customers to a hotel which we do not believe to be safe.
“We audit all 3,000 of our core hotels every year and so far this calendar year we have removed 47 hotels for health and safety reasons and a further 150 which did not meet our strict quality criteria.
“As well as the audits, our quality teams regularly inspect our properties and provide support, guidance and training to help hotels improve. We last audited Steigenberger Aqua Magic in July 2018.”