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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 December 2005, 20:15 GMT
Farewells said at tsunami inquest
By Susannah Cullinane
BBC News at Olympia

Phuket temple after tsunami
Coroner Alison Thompson praised local authorities for their work
It was a quiet and sombre finish to the mass inquest examining the deaths of 91 Britons and two foreigners in last year's tsunami.

Few relatives were in the Coroner's Court at London's Olympia Exhibition Centre for the last afternoon of the hearing.

The circumstances of the deaths of the last eight of 93 cases to be examined were read out to a hushed courtroom, as those present sat in clusters around the auditorium.

It seemed a small gathering for such a far-reaching catastrophe.

God, you have a new member of the heavenly choir but Jez will do it his way - thumbs up
Linda Lilley
Mother of victim

But, as West London Coroner Alison Thompson said in her summing up, it was also an unusual hearing because the cause of death in all the cases was known, so there was little new information for those present.

The majority of the final eight victims did not have relatives in court, but some had sent in tributes to be read out, switching the focus from the manner in which they died to the individuals and their lives.

Jeremy "Jez" Craig Stephens, 29, of Norwich, was staying on the island of Phi Phi when the tsunami struck.

In her eulogy, Mr Stephens' mother, Linda Lilley, described him as a "likeable lad who had many friends right across the world".

"His warm smile and wicked laugh had a great way of making you feel at ease," she said.

"God, you have a new member of the heavenly choir but Jez will do it his way - thumbs up."

Questions remain

Over the four days of the hearing, many relatives of the victims took the opportunity to ask questions about the circumstances of their deaths.

However, because of the nature of disaster, many questions remain unanswered.

On the final afternoon, only Arthur Sutherland, whose 76-year-old wife Joyce died in Phuket, Thailand, questioned Coroner Alison Thompson.

One of his questions was where his wife had been found.

He was told it was unclear how her body had come to arrive at Site Two on the island, after the wave of water had swept her away at Bang Tao on the Thai island of Phuket.

In the aftermath of the disaster, such detail had been hard to find.

Coroner Alison Thompson
If it's to have some value perhaps it's placing the facts in the public domain
Coroner Alison Thompson

In her summing up, Ms Thompson paid tribute to those who worked to recover the dead after the 26 December disaster.

She apologised to victims for delays, but praised local authorities in Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Maldives - where those who were subjects of the inquest died.

Some had had to disturb graves and others had worked hard to meet the identification standards of different countries, she added.

Ms Thompson said that she was confident all the identifications had been "entirely accurate and reliable".

She acknowledged: "The inquest has not revealed any more to the families than they already knew, but it has related to a catastrophe that has had the greatest global reach in memory and involved an unprecedented operation to recover people."

"If it's to have some value perhaps it's placing the facts in the public domain," she said, adding that details of the inquest would be useful as a historical record.

For the relatives, she said the hearing was "if nothing else, an opportunity to talk to each other and derive some comfort from being together".

Finally, those that were in the court, along with police, court staff and media stood - together - in silence as the names of 151 victims were projected onto a screen.

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