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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 December 2005, 14:56 GMT
Tsunami victim had beaten cancer
Stuart Shields and his wife, Tania
Stuart Shields was swept out to sea while snorkelling with his wife Tania
One of the British victims of the Asian tsunami had been about to receive the all-clear after treatment for a serious chest tumour, an inquest has heard.

A mass inquest in London examining how 93 victims died heard 2005 was to be a year of celebration for Stuart Shields.

But he was swept out to sea and drowned while snorkelling with his wife off the island of Velavaru in the Maldives.

The Olympia Exhibition Centre in Kensington has been converted into a Coroner's Court for a four-day session.

Relatives of the victims of the disaster on 26 December last year have expressed anger at the speed of the authorities' response and how they were informed by the government.

Some also attacked the lack of an early warning system for the countries hit.

Mr Shields, 37, of Ridgewell, Essex, had been about to be given the all-clear after having been diagnosed with a large chest tumour 10 years earlier, West London Coroner Alison Thompson heard.

But as he and his wife Tania, 35, were engulfed by the waves, their friend Philip Benje tried in vain to save Mr Shields' life, the inquest heard.

Scene of destruction in Banda Aceh caused by the Asian tsunami
Police say 149 Britons and people with close links to the UK died

Tania Shields, who attended the hearing on Tuesday, survived.

In a statement read to the court she said her husband "had the heart of a lion".

"Ten years ago he was found to have a large tumour in his chest.

"He bore the aggressive chemotherapy and radical surgery with extraordinary grace and courage. 2005 was going to be a year of celebration for all of us when he was going to be given the official all-clear."

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

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.

The London inquest covers 91 of the British victims, and two foreign nationals whose bodies were sent to the UK.

Holidaymakers Valerie Awcock, 56, her husband, Andrew, daughter, Claire Hickman, 31, and son-in-law, David Hickman, 37, were engulfed by the tsunami on the Thai island of Khao Lak.

The retired tailor and her husband ran up the beach - but only he survived.

David Hickman
David Hickman and his wife died when their villa was destroyed

The younger couple - who had been due to return home on 6 January after touring the Far East for a month - had died when their Royal Koko Palm Beach Hotel villa was destroyed as they had breakfast, the coroner heard.

The three "victims of the tsunami", from St Albans in Hertfordshire, had drowned, she ruled.

In a statement read to the court Mrs Awcock's brother, Les Moody, said she had been a "much-loved daughter, wife and mother".

"She touched many people's lives through her life, and left a lasting impression on them.

After her first husband, John, died, Mrs Awcock sold the tailoring business they had built and devoted herself to raising money for a hospice in the area.

"Many local businessmen will remember her for being persuasive in extracting money and goods for her favourite charity," Mr Moody added.

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

Beauty therapist Mrs Hickman and her financial adviser husband "were both in their early 30s, enjoying the fruits of successful lives", Mr Moody said.

The family did not want to apportion blame, he added.

"It is very easy to point the finger - but it would not bring them back.

"Maybe the ultimate sacrifice our loved ones made will help save others in the future."

Housewife and mother Pauline Pyke, 60, from Southampton, had been standing in the doorway of the bungalow where she had been staying with her husband, Malcolm, 50 yards from the sea on the island of Velavara in the Maldives, the coroner heard.

A police spokesman said: "The bungalow was swept away along with Pauline." Ms Thompson ruled the "victim of the tsunami" had drowned.

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 fiancÚ

Her husband is "in poor health".

In a statement read to the court, her family recalled a "wonderful, loving wife and mum".

"Not a day passes when Pauline is not missed by those who loved her.

"She is always in our thoughts.

"Our hearts are empty because we cannot see her - but we are full of the love that we shared.

"We miss you mum. Rest in peace."

Fashion photographer Simon Atlee, 33, of Stoke Newington, north London, and his Czech supermodel girlfriend, Petra Nemcova, had spent the morning walking along the beach before breakfasting and returning to the Khao Lak Orchid Beach resort, the coroner heard.

Ms Nemcova broke her pelvis as the giant wave swept through their beach bungalow.

Fashion photographer Simon Atlee, 33, of Stoke Newington, north London, and his Czech supermodel girlfriend, Petra Nemcova
Simon Atlee and Petra Nemcova were engulfed by the wave

Mr Atlee was never seen alive again.

In a statement read to the court, his family paid a warm tribute to their "handsome" and "talented" son, brother, uncle and friend.

"He spent an idyllic Christmas Day with his beloved girlfriend Petra, planning their wedding and their future together.

"When speaking to his family on the phone from Thailand on Christmas Day, his girlfriend described him as shining with happiness, which is how we shall always remember him - a shining light who bought happiness to all who knew him.

"The pain of living without him is intense and unending.

"We miss him desperately and always will."

After the hearing, Mr Atlee's father Stephen, who attended with his stepmother Vivienne, said he was "very proud" of his son.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
One man describes losing his wife in the tsunami



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