A woman who fought for five years to find out why her parents suffered horrific deaths on holiday in Egypt has told how she is still traumatised by the tragedy.
Kelly Ormerod spoke out after a British inquest this month confirmed John and Susan Cooper were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning caused by fumes from a pesticide being used in their luxury hotel to kill bed bugs.
Yet an Egyptian probe had said the couple’s harrowing, slow deaths on a break with her in 2018 were caused by E. coli – and medics there even told her they were the result of a suicide pact. And now, after a surge in bed bugs in the UK, shattered Kelly is warning people to call in specialist firms to deal with them rather than risking tragedy themselves, whatever the price.
The single mum-of-three, 46, said: “I still suffer from the trauma of seeing them die in such a dreadful way. Our family is broken without them. I’m still in so much pain over the thought their deaths could have been prevented but I’m glad we now finally have the answers. We’ve been given closure in the sense that we know how this happened but I don’t feel any better. It should never have happened in the first place.”
The nightmare began when Kelly and her children went with builder John, 69, and foreign exchange adviser Susan, 63, on a fortnight’s holiday to the Red Sea resort of Hurghada in August 2018, staying at the five-star Steigenberger Aqua Magic Hotel with friends. Well-travelled John and Susan – married for 40 years – had visited the same hotel only a few months earlier.
Kelly said: “They were so excited to share the experience. They loved the friendly atmosphere, the cleanliness and the quality of the food.” On this latest trip, the couple shared a room with granddaughter Molly, who is now 18, until one night a “disgusting smell” prompted her to move to her mum’s room.
Kelly said: “I thought Molly had eaten something funny. She looked peaky but said the smell of my mum and dad’s room was making her feel sick.” John, who walked Molly to Kelly’s room, showed no sign of illness. “Dad was fine,” she said. “I thanked him for bringing Molly, kissed him goodnight and he walked back to his room to go to sleep.”
The next day, when her parents were not on their sun loungers as usual by 8.30am, Kelly became worried. John answered her knock but she said he was “incredibly unsteady on his feet”. She recalled: “As soon as he opened the door, I could smell vomit and he was slurring his words. He told me they were feeling rotten. As he walked… it was like watching a bouncy ball. He was walking in a zigzag, pushing himself off the walls.”
Her mother was in bed, covered in vomit. Terrified, Kelly and family friend Louise Clayton, 58, asked the hotel to fetch a doctor. Kelly said: “It took an hour for one to arrive. Both my parents’ breathing had changed. They couldn’t support their own body weight, so were lying down. The doctor then called for a second medical professional. It was chaos. Dad wasn’t moving, he wasn’t talking, he was frozen. Mum wasn’t talking but she was groaning in pain.”
After 45 minutes and 20 attempts to cannulate John, who had a heart condition, he went into cardiac arrest and died on the hotel room’s floor. Kelly said: “I fell into a state of shock. Dad’s eyes were open, so I kissed his forehead and closed them. My head was exploding, not knowing why or how this happened. I begged my mum to stay with me. I couldn’t lose her, too.”
Susan was eventually taken to Aseel Medical Care Hospital in Hurghada by ambulance – after an earlier ambulance had been turned away by hotel staff – but she sadly died two-and-a-half hours later.
Kelly said: “I had some hope my mum would be OK, as she was taken to hospital. But when I arrived, the doctors thought they were part of a suicide pact. It was devastating as I knew my parents wouldn’t have committed suicide. No one could give me answers about why they’d died. They told me to go back to the hotel and sort it out with them.”
Five days later, a devastated Kelly and her children flew back to the UK and she bravely acted as a pallbearer at her parents’ funeral. Since then, she has been battling to find out why John and Susan, from Burnley, died.
Three years after the horror, an Egyptian investigation into the couple’s deaths claimed the cause was E. coli bacteria. Kelly challenged that and the Home Office concluded the deaths had been caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. But it was not until an inquest in Preston this month that senior coroner for Lancashire Dr James Adeley pinpointed the source of the poisonous gas.
Toxicology expert Professor Robert Chilcott told the hearing that in some countries the pesticide Lambda is sometimes diluted with fumigation solvent dichloromethane, which causes the body to metabolise or ingest carbon monoxide.
In a narrative verdict, Dr Adeley concluded the couple’s deaths “were caused by the spraying of a pesticide containing dichloromethane in an adjoining room and inhaling the vapour resulting in their deaths by carbon monoxide poisoning”
The verdict comes after a surge in bed bugs in the UK. And in France, Paris has been particularly hard-hit with the insects found in hotels, homes and even on public transport. Kelly warned that people should only use reputable firms to tackle infestations, whatever it may cost.
She said: “With regards to the UK, I do feel that it’s more regulated – but I’d be worried about people attempting to do it themselves and trying to mix things, or being unaware of what the pesticides contain.
“Make sure you go with someone who knows what they’re doing and they’re highly regulated. Consider the harm it could do if it goes wrong. I’d hate for anyone to go through what we went through. No price is too high for the safety of yourself and loved ones.”
Kelly has decided not to sue the hotel because she says it is not cost-effective and she “just wants closure with everything”. Now, she and her children take a “scoop” of John and Susan’s ashes on every holiday, scattering them at sea to “feel closer to them”. Kelly said: “They were the most loving parents and grandparents. There will always be a big hole in my heart.”
To mark finally finding out the truth behind the tragedy, Kelly is planning a holiday to Lesbos, Greece – one of her parents’ favourite places – next August with those who were in Egypt when they died.
But after the verdict, she expects an emotional festive period, saying: “This Christmas feels like our very first after their death all over again.”
“I’m glad we finally have the answers we’ve waited five years for. The inquest brought out the raw emotions I felt when it happened. The day I lost them was, without a doubt, the worst day of my life.”