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Last Updated: Monday, 5 December 2005, 19:58 GMT
Tsunami families attack response
Charlotte Jones
Charlotte Jones, 23, was swept away as she waited for a boat
Bereaved families of UK tsunami victims have attacked the authorities' handling of the aftermath of the disaster at the opening of a mass inquest in London.

The coroner is examining when, where and how 91 of the British victims died.

One mother said she was "disgusted" to learn first from the media that her son's body was being flown home.

Another mother, Liz Jones, from Hampshire, who lost her daughter Charlotte, said she would be alive if there had been an early warning system.

The inquest - held in Olympia Exhibition Centre - also heard how the body of another victim was mistakenly flown to Germany instead of back to the UK.

Although the inquest does not examine issues other than the essential facts concerning each death - the identity of each victim, when, where and how they died - relatives were able to question expert witnesses.

It just beggars belief that a reporter could phone up and tell you your child is on a plane home
Sharon Howard, who lost her sons and fiancé

Police say 149 Britons and people with close links to the UK died in the disaster.

Some questioned why no warnings appeared to have been issued or passed between the different countries hit by the tsunami on 26 December.

Mrs Jones said: "If my daughter had had five minutes she would have been alive today."

Her 23-year-old daughter, a Bristol University graduate from Petersfield, Hampshire, was on a beach on the island of Rachayai, south of Phuket, Thailand, when the tsunami struck.

A survivor told the hearing: "There was not even a single phone call, no word of mouth, not even someone running along with a Tannoy system."


But Dr Tim Henstock, of the National Oceanography Centre, said the existence of a warning system to detect the tsunami may not have helped victims.

Its unprecedented scale meant adequate evacuation plans were unlikely to be in place, he said.

Dr Henstock told the hearing no-one could have expected an earthquake of the scale that hit in the region, which only happened approximately every 500 years.

West London Coroner Alison Thompson
I'm very aware that families may have concerns about other issues
Coroner Alison Thompson

Any early warning system therefore required a "long-term commitment to the infrastructure", he said.

Dr Henstock said: "An early warning system does not help unless you have infrastructure and mechanisms and everyone knows what is supposed to be done if a warning comes in."

Several relatives also expressed anger at the speed of the response and the way they were informed by the British government.

Mother Sharon Howard questioned Detective Chief Superintendent Nick Bracken, the senior identification manager with the Metropolitan Police.

She said a reporter had left her a phone message telling her of the return of her son's body before she had received official word.

She lost her sons Taylor, six, Mason, eight, from St Ives, Cornwall, and her fiance David Page, of Graffham, West Sussex, in the disaster.

Her son, Taylor, aged six, from Hayle, in Cornwall, was killed by the giant wave in the Thai resort of Khao Lak Phang Nga.

Ms Howard said: "It just beggars belief that a newspaper or a television reporter could phone up and tell you your child is on a plane home.

"I was left a message on my mobile phone saying 'congratulations, your son is coming home today'.

"I think it is disgusting they could leave a message like that before the police had got in touch."

Det Ch Supt Bracken said the DNA results in this case were released by the Thai authorities, and reporters had linked this with previous reports about the Howards before her family liaison officer had been informed.

Body mix-up

Following questions from a survivor, who did not want to be named, it emerged the mix-up of two bodies had led to a British person being flown to Germany and a German national being brought to the UK.

This meant the German authorities were legally obliged to carry out the identification procedure of the body of the UK national, while the German national was formally identified in Britain. His death is one of those being considered at the inquest.

The death of a Swiss woman will also be considered during the mass inquest.

West London coroner Alison Thompson earlier warned victims' relatives and friends at the hearing of her restricted remit.

"I'm very aware that families may have concerns about other issues.

Scene of destruction in Banda Aceh caused by the Asian tsunami
More than 200,000 are dead or missing following the 26 December tsunami

"While I fully acknowledge and respect their feelings in relation to this, I am sorry these matters cannot be examined in this court."

Some relatives of those who died will be able to have tributes they have written read out in the court.

Metropolitan Police Commander Cressida Dick, who led UK police operations related to the disaster, said 52 people not part of the inquest had been buried or cremated abroad and that six more were still listed as missing.

It has emerged the disaster prompted Oxfam International's biggest ever relief operation.

The charity's end of year 'Tsunami Accountability Report' revealed that £160m had been raised - 90% of which came from members of the public.

One man describes losing his wife in the tsunami

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