The last night of an idyllic holiday in Tunisia for three generations of a Lincoln family, turned into a nightmare when a visit to a local restaurant left a 64-year-old grandmother with horrific burns.
Sheila Beecroft was on holiday in the Tunisian resort of Monastir in October 2003, with her eldest daughter Sarah and 12-year-old granddaughter, Alice, when the accident happened.
The family had spotted an upmarket-looking restaurant overlooking the marina and had decided to book a table there to celebrate the last evening of their holiday. All three had pre-ordered a traditional Tunisian dish which required slow-cooking for 24 hours in a clay pot before being brought to a decorated side-table and then served.
The dish required the waiter to pour alcohol onto the hot clay pot to crack it and then to serve the contents.
The first two dishes were served without incident but as the waiter started to prepare Sheila's meal, the cork came out of the bottle of alcohol and the entire contents hit the clay pot, which exploded, causing a fireball that engulfed her.
Sheila instinctively put her hands up to try to protect her face and sustained first, second and third degree burns to her face, neck, shoulders, arms and hands.
She was rushed to a local Tunisian hospital where she remained for a week, before being flown home to the UK where she spent six weeks on the specialist burns unit of the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield.
Recalling the accident, Sheila said: "Even now, more than three years after the accident, I remember that night as though it was yesterday. I can still hear the distress in my grand-daughter's voice as she screamed in terror and my daughter trying to put out the flames and calling for someone to get help, as the waiters just stood by, doing nothing.
"The hospital in Tunisia looked after me very well medically but the staff there only spoke Arabic or French. My husband flew over to be at my bedside and he was put under a lot of pressure to sign forms, which he couldn't understand.
"He refused to sign and we later found out they were trying to get us to sign a disclaimer against the restaurant!"
Sheila spent more than a year off work and many months recuperating from her injuries. She underwent intensive physiotherapy in order to regain movement in her neck and fingers.
National law firm, Irwin Mitchell, is now helping Sheila in her fight for compensation against the restaurant through the Tunisian Courts.
Kieran Mitchell, of Irwin Mitchell's specialist International Travel Litigation Group, said: "Although Sheila and her family travelled to Tunisia with a recognised UK tour operator, the accident happened in a local restaurant and we have therefore had to pursue the matter through the Tunisian courts. Sheila has twice had to travel back to Tunisia to attend hearings, firstly to be interviewed by the presiding judge and secondly to undergo an assessment by the courts medico-legal expert.
"Initially the judge decided that the case should be against the waiter himself and that no liability could be attributed to the owner of the restaurant. However, that decision was overturned on appeal.
"A further hearing scheduled to take place in November last year, has been adjourned at the request of the restaurant owner in order to bring his insurers into proceedings."
Kieran added: "Sheila and her family have not only been through the trauma of the accident itself but are having to endure the continued ordeal of a prolonged overseas court-room battle. Although Sheila had adequate travel insurance, which covered her medical bills and the continuing legal costs, she has nevertheless been left with considerable out of pocket expenses and we can only hope that the Tunisian courts will soon agree to settle in her favour so that she can finally receive justice and recompense for what happened."