Although technically exonerated from responsibility for the tragic deaths of two young children in one of its hotels in Corfu nine years ago, Thomas Cook has since got itself in real pickle (terrible headlines, social media backlash and share price down) through a mess largely of its own making.
At the inquest last week, you could almost hear the legal team whispering in the ears of Thomas Cook. Clearly they were under strict instructions to not to appear too sorry for what had happened in case it gave some impression of liability. To such an extent that on occasion several of those in the witness box hid behind their legal right not to answer questions.
Clearly, this is one of those issues which occasionally arise in corporate governance where it’s better to go over the head of your legal team. Saying nothing is rarely a good idea. Saying very little and coming over as without empathy is even worse.
Yes, Thomas Cook may technically be in the right. Yes, the people who were responsible first hand (the Corfu hotel management) have been rightly convicted for their negligence. Yes, Thomas Cook, has said that it ‘recognises the pain’ caused by these events. It has also given half the money it received in compensation from the Greek settlement to charity.
But the trouble is the people that really matter - the children’s family - don’t believe Thomas Cook is really sorry for what happened. That fact will last a lot longer in public consciousness and Thomas Cook’s brand reputation than the technicalities of this tragic case.