The security of a Tunisian resort where 30 Britons were killed in a gun attack in June 2015 had been questioned six months before, an inquest has heard.
A report from January 2015 for the UK government had raised concerns about the beach entrance of the Riu Imperial Marhaba, near Sousse.
Islamist gunman Seifeddine Rezgui killed 10 people on the beach before entering the five-star hotel from the sand – 38 people died in total. He was killed by police an hour later.
The attack was the deadliest on Britons since the 7 July 2005 London bombings.
On the second day of the hearings into the Britons’ deaths – held at London’s Royal Courts of Justice – Andrew Ritchie QC, who represents 20 of the victims’ families, read extracts from the heavily redacted report. It had looked at the security of around 30 hotels in three Mediterranean resorts. The resort had previously been targeted by a suicide bomber in 2013, who had killed only himself, the inquest heard.
Mr Ritchie said: “Given that the attack on the Riadh Palms Hotel in October 2013 was launched from the beach, particular attention was paid to the beach access points. “[The report] said ‘Despite some good security infrastructure around the hotels and resorts, there seems to be little in the way of effective security to prevent or respond to an attack [from the beach]’.”
A counter-terrorism assessment for the Foreign Office days after the attack also raised concerns about the resort’s security.
The review by the Tunisian security assessment team (TSAT) found “facilities security at the hotels to be generally of a low standard” although “some hotels had better security”.
Jane Marriott, a director of the Foreign Office’s Middle East North Africa directorate at the time of the attacks, told the hearing that because Tunisia had been a dictatorship before the revolution in 2010, there was “little public desire for a more intrusive police presence”. She added: “This made it difficult for the authorities to be proactive with security.”
Mr Ritchie told the inquest a Briton who had survived the attack, Paul Thompson, had been advised by travel agent TUI in his hometown of Ilkeston, Derbyshire, that it was “100% safe” to go to Sousse. This was despite an attack on the country’s capital a few weeks earlier, which it claimed had been a “one-off”.
When asked about the agreement with the Foreign Office for travel agents to direct travellers to the government website for advice, in reference to Mr Thompson’s case, Ms Marriott said: “We would expect this (travel) information to be flagged up.”
The so-called Islamic State militant group said it was behind the attack by the Tunisian student.
Mr Ritchie told the inquest the government had been aware that activists linked to the group had warned they would target tourists, in a video posted on YouTube in December 2014. The inquest has previously heard that official guidance for tourists to Tunisia had said there was a “high risk of terrorism” at the time of the Sousse attack.
This had not been updated to the highest level of advising against all travel, despite an attack on the Bardo Museum, in Tunis, in March 2015 in which 24 people were killed, including 20 tourists.
Over the next seven weeks, the inquest will examine whether the UK government and travel firms failed in their responsibility to protect British tourists. The coroner, Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith, is examining travel advice issued for Tunisia by the Foreign Office, as well as the security put in place at the hotel by tour operator Thomson.
The government has applied for some details to be kept private because of national security concerns.