Thomas Cook focused too much on reputation and not enough on customers, says Justin King's report on Corfu deaths

An independent review of Thomas Cook's role in and response to the death of two customers in Corfu in 2006 has said the holiday firm should review its crisis comms plan among other recommendations.

In July, former Sainsbury's chief executive Justin King was appointed to oversee an independent review of customer safety, relations and crisis management at Thomas Cook, following the 2006 death of Robert and Christianne Shepherd, aged six and seven, from carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty boiler while on holiday in Corfu with their father and his partner.

The firm had been criticised for its handling of PR around the issue after it was awarded compensation earlier this year.

King's 38-page review was published today on the company's website, accompanied by a statement saying: "The board asked for a rigorous and independent view and that is what we have received."

The report makes several references to comms – although neither the term 'public relations' nor 'PR' is specifically used, and nobody from the comms team is listed as having been interviewed by King for the report, save chief marketing officer Remo Marsala.

The section of the report covering crisis and incident management says: "The business operates a conventional ‘Risk Dashboard’ process which identifies its key risks. As you would expect – and quite properly – these are not all customer facing, but I would observe that there is an over-emphasis on financial and reputational risk and less emphasis on customer consequences and outcomes than is appropriate."

It goes on to make the recommendation: "The Risk Dashboard should be reviewed with a view to shifting the emphasis to consumer outcomes driving actions, rather than financial or reputational consequence."

It also says that the firm should review the implementation of crisis management training, and recommends: "Regular reviews/simulations should be staged. In particular to test whether appropriate communication takes place in the early stages of an emerging incident."

The review also says that the firm is developing a 'bereavement help pack' with assistance from the mother of the deceased.

The section on customer service and relations says that customers are often confused as to the product they have booked, saying: "There is much confusion on the part of customers as to the exact nature of the holiday or package that they have booked and the terms and conditions that apply. Many disputes are founded in the detail of this. The responsibility must lie with the company to ensure that at the time of booking customers are clear on this kind of detail."

Other aspects of the report include recommendations around destination management, quality assurance and health and safety.

In its response to the report, which is also published on its website, Thomas Cook CEO Peter Fankhauser said: "Booking a holiday is a matter of trust and it is our duty to do everything we can to justify the trust our customers place in us, both now and in the future. We have achieved much already, but there is certainly much more to do. I am confident we are on the right path."

King said: "My aim remains that this review can form a key part of the Thomas Cook programme to put the customer back at the heart of this business. I am confident that through the change programme already begun by Peter Fankhauser, and the commitments made today, that real and lasting change will be made."

Thomas Cook has recently rebuilt its PR function, and hired a new group comms director.

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