A mum whose daughter drowned in a Greek boating tragedy has won a six-figure payout after a 13-year battle for justice against the holiday firm responsible.
Tragic Laura Morgan was 11 when she died after the 15ft-long catamaran she was on was hit by a gust of wind and capsized on July 31, 2003.
The privately-educated schoolgirl was on a Sunsail all-inclusive holiday at the Club Vounaki resort in Paleros Bay with her older sister and mother Lynne when she died.
A Greek court found three employees of the UK-based company, which is now owned by the global TUI PLC group, guilty of causing Laura‘s death by negligence in 2006.
One was cleared on appeal but the other two were given suspended prison terms after another hearing in 2007 with the appeals rejected in 2010.
Last week Mrs Morgan, 61, was finally awarded compensation from Sunsail after a 13-year battle for justice for her daughter.
The retired market consultant, who lives in Woodborough, Notts., has been through 13 court hearings and seven guilty verdicts before the landmark ruling.
Today (Fri), mum-of-two Mrs Morgan, who also has a 29-year-old daughter, said: “Sunsail have treated me like a piece of inert flotsam,
“I sincerely hope that they are shamed and their inhuman corporate stance over Laura‘s death can now be exposed.
“Throughout this 13-year battle Sunsail have shown complete contempt for Laura, myself and my family.
“They have not had an ounce of compassion for the loss of my child whilst in their care and have been completely inert and passive hiding behind their lawyers throughout.
“They just treated me with disdain, they have just taken the system every which way and have total disregard for any emotion towards my family.
“It has been absolutely horrific because for 13 years I have had to repeatedly go over and over all the details of how my beautiful daughter died.
“Grief is a very powerful emotion and I became more and more determined to fight for the truth to come out and for justice to be served.
“I would have pursued this for a half-penny. They probably thought I was going to go away but I didn’t.
“If they had held their hands up at the beginning then I probably could have forgiven them.
“But they didn’t and I have never received an apology from them, it is just the same bland statements.
“Laura‘s death should never have happened, Sunsail were operating in a very unprofessional, laissez-faire manner out in Greece.”
A week-long inquest held in Nottingham in 2012 heard Laura‘s catamaran was “turned turtle” after being caught by a sudden gust of wind 300 yards from the shore.
Laura was trapped underneath when her trapeze harness, which allows sailors to lean out to help steer the boat, became tangled in the rigging.
Rescue staff quickly dived from other boats to free Laura, who was unconscious, and dragged her to the shore where holidaymakers tried in vain to revive her.
Recording a narrative verdict, Nottinghamshire Coroner Mairin Casey said: “I find that there was no proper inquiry made to establish if Laura had prior experience of using a trapeze harness before she was allowed to go on the water.
“I find that Laura had no instruction on the use of a trapeze from someone trained and qualified to give that advice.”
Criminal proceedings against five Sunsail employees began the year after Laura‘s death in 2004.
Three workers were found guilty of “homicide by misadventure” in the Court of Misdemeanours the Greek island of Lefkada – with one later being cleared on appeal.
The civil case for damages was launched in Greece in 2008 with a court finding Sunsail guilty of being liable for Laura‘s death in 2011.
But the firm continued to drag out an appeal before it was finally rejected in the Greek Supreme Court in March this year.
But Mrs Morgan, who is divorced from Laura‘s father, said she was still forced to use the British judicial system to get Sunsail to hand over the compensation.
She added: “In Greece it was finally sorted in March this year.
“But the money didn’t appear so because it was a debt owed to me we had to threaten to take them through the British courts.
“We sent them a letter saying pay up or else two weeks ago and gave them three days to pay.
“They tried to get that delayed too and we had to push them last week to say we will continue with legal action and then the money finally appeared last week.
“We had an original judgement in the civil case in Greece and then they took it to appeal which they lost.
“But it was very difficult to get them to pay through the Greek courts.”
Holiday firm Sunsail, which is currently hosting the UK’s biggest yachting regatta Cowes Week 2016 on the Isle of Wight, said it regretted the “protracted process”.
A spokesperson said: “Laura‘s untimely death remains a tragedy and the thoughts of everyone in the company, as always, remain with her family.
“We will always deeply regret the distress that this protracted process has undoubtedly caused for Laura‘s family and we are aware that this matter has taken a number of years to reach resolution.
“The claim for compensation was pursued by the family through the Greek Courts and we can confirm that the company has always acted in accordance with any orders received from the Greek Courts who have only recently delivered their final judgement.
“Sunsail has always maintained that it operated, and continues to operate, within the stringent safety guidelines set out by the Royal Yachting Association.
“The safety of our guests was, and is always, an absolute priority for us.”
TIMELINE TO JUSTICE –
July 31, 2003: Laura drowns after freak gust of wind capsized sailing boat in Greece.
December 14, 2004: Five Sunsail employees charged with manslaughter through negligence.
October 11, 2005: The trial commences in Lefkada, Greece.
March 21, 2006: Three defendants found guilty and handed 18-month suspended sentences. The trio then launch an appeal against their convictions.
April 23, 2007: Two of the sentences upheld with their terms reduced to 15 months, while another is found not guilty. An immediate appeal to the Supreme Court is launched.
March 19, 2008: Laura‘s family issue a civil claim against Sunsail.
April 11, 2008: Supreme Court judges in Athens order a retrial of the Sunsail workers.
December 2, 2008: The convictions of the two Sunsail staff upheld for a third time. A further appeal is made to the Supreme Court
June 6, 2010: Supreme Court rejects the appeal of the two Sunsail workers.
August 12, 2011: The civil court judgement heard in the Court of First Instance in Lefkada finds in the family’s favour.
September 9, 2011: The judgement over the family’s claim is published and the family are awarded a six-figure sum. Sunsail immediately appeals the decision
January 2012: An inquest into Laura‘s death is held in Nottingham.
June 25, 2013: Sunsail’s claim appeal is rejected and it applies for a stay of execution of the judgement and appeals to the Supreme Court. Sunsail does not pay compensation.
May 16, 2014: Supreme Court decides to suspend one half of the amount pending the outcome of the court hearing but Sunsail “still refuses” to pay for the other half
March 30, 2016: Supreme Court rejects Sunsail’s appeal and orders it to pay costs.
July 26, 2016: The family’s lawyers issue a further letter to Sunsail giving it three days to pay.
August 2016: Laura‘s mother Lynne Morgan finally receives a six-figure compensation sum after threatening to take legal action through the British judicial system.