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Lawyer Speaks Out Over Holiday Illness Case Delays

Holidaymakers Taken Ill In Dominican Republic In 2007


A specialist travel lawyer from Irwin Mitchell has urged tour operator First Choice to “face up to its responsibilities” and help more than 400 holidaymakers who were left seriously ill after stays at the Bahia Principe resort in the Dominican Republic.

The holidaymakers all stayed at the resort between May and August 2007 but are still waiting for justice as First Choice has refused to accept liability for the problems.

Another tour operator that sent tourists to the same resort in 2007 has already agreed a payout of almost £3.5 million to those affected.

Two friends who holidayed with First Choice are to be the focus of a BBC documentary, ‘Save My Holiday’.

The group of 408 tourists includes people whose holidays were ruined by serious illnesses such as Salmonella, Shigella and Campylobacter. A number of guests were so seriously ill that they had to be ferried to hospital in ambulances.

Almost four years on from the outbreak, First Choice is still denying liability for the problems. Lawyers at Irwin Mitchell have already agreed a settlement of nearly £3.5 million for tourists who holidayed at the Bahia Principe with Thomas Cook and subsidiary My Travel.

In December 2009 Irwin Mitchell issued formal court proceedings on behalf of those who travelled with First Choice.

Clive Garner, head of the firm’s travel law department said: “The huge catalogue of complaints our clients have encountered shows just how appalling the conditions were.

“That was why Thomas Cook and My Travel, to their credit, held up their hands quickly, admitted they were in the wrong, and worked with us to agree the right level of compensation for each of our clients – allowing their customers to move on with their lives.

“It’s nothing short of ludicrous for First Choice to continue to deny it was at fault. Its customers were there at the same hotel at the same time suffering from the same illnesses. At the very least they deserve the same treatment as Thomas Cook has afforded its customers.”

Holidaymakers claimed that food did not seem to have been cooked properly and had been left uncovered. There were also reports of birds and mice in the dining area and hotel staff fishing faecal matter out of the swimming pool using nets.

Sharon Brotherton and Stephanie Hughes from County Durham stayed at the hotel in June 2007.

Stephanie said: “What was supposed to be a memorable holiday to celebrate Sharon’s birthday will certainly be one that neither of us will forget, but for all the wrong reasons – it turned into a complete nightmare. Rather than enjoying the sun we were confined to our room for most of the holiday with fever, diarrhoea and sickness, I couldn’t wait to come home.

Sharon added: “The conditions at the hotel were absolutely appalling, it was no wonder so many people fell ill. The buffet area was dirty and unhygienic, food was served at incorrect temperatures and Stephanie even saw bugs in some of the dishes.

“We thought that by arranging our holiday through a company as large and as well-known as First Choice we would be booking a quality break at a hotel which at the very least would be clean, well maintained and with helpful staff but unfortunately it was the complete opposite.”

Sharon and Stephanie’s acute symptoms settled in 2007 but both still suffer from disruptive bowel habits and abdominal discomfort. Less than six months after returning home, Stephanie was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

In August 2007 the Dominican Republic Minister for Public Health, Bautista Rojas, confirmed that holidaymakers had been taken ill due to contaminated foodstuffs at the hotel.

The situation was so bad that one plane flying back from the Dominican Republic was put in quarantine at Gatwick Airport while another was boarded by doctors. Other holidaymakers who had stayed at the Bahia Principe had to be treated by doctors before they could leave their plane at Manchester Airport.

More than 1,000 British holidaymakers in total were taken ill at the resort in 2007.

Clive Garner added: “Despite similar problems having been reported at the hotel on and off for the previous ten years, First Choice continued to direct their customers to the resort throughout the 2007 epidemic. Meanwhile, when at the hotel, guests who became ill typically received little or no help from their holiday reps.

“It’s hugely disappointing that First Choice is still failing to recognise its responsibility in this case. These people deserve to receive fair compensation for their illnesses and for the shocking service they received. Worse still, many of them continue to suffer illness to this day.”

There is a history of problems at the Bahia Principe. Irwin Mitchell has acted for clients who fell ill at the hotel in 1997, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.