The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) on securing this debate. Let me acknowledge at the outset the diligence and concern that he has brought to the matter as the local member of Parliament for that community.
The subject of the debate is the case of Christopher Rochester, who, as the House has just heard, tragically died in Greece on 11 June 2000. I welcome the opportunity to set out our position clearly in relation to this case and provide my hon. Friend with some clarity on the options available to the Cummings family.
Before concentrating on the specifics of the case, it is worth noting the close ties that Britain enjoys with Greece, a fellow member of the European Union. Greece has a well-established judicial system that has developed to meet the traditions and needs of its people. Some 3 million British tourists visit Greece each year, enjoying the beach resorts and cultural heritage on offer. The vast majority do not experience any problems, but inevitably, serious accidents do happen, and where the deaths are compounded by errors and negligence, the trauma to the victims' families is all the more difficult to cope with. The case of Christopher Rochester is unfortunately one of those cases.
My hon. Friend spoke at length about the case of Christopher, and in particular the two outstanding issues that continue to cause distress to the Cummings family: the recent acquittal, which will lead to a lengthy appeals process, and the urgent need to resolve conclusively the whereabouts of Christopher's missing kidney. I sympathise deeply with Mr. and Mrs Cummings and will ensure that we do all we properly can to assist them in resolving these issues.
I would like to address the question of Christopher's missing kidney. It is very regrettable that, five years on from Christopher's untimely death and four years on since the case was discussed in this House, the issue of the missing kidney is still unresolved. We are determined to resolve the uncertainty over the identification of Christopher's kidney. The hospital coroner in Rhodes,
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Dr. Stefis, has been unable to produce any evidence to contradict the findings of the Durham coroner that the kidney sent to the United Kingdom was not Christopher's.
As a result, we are continuing to challenge the Greek authorities' identification. Our consular staff in Athens have recently raised this with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requesting it to pursue this issue urgently. Our consul in Athens followed that up on 1 June. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has contacted the Ministry of Health and is awaiting a response. Our consul in Athens will continue to pursue this matter with the Greek authorities. Prior to this, my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), my predecessor as Minister for Europe, also raised our concerns about this case with his Greek counterpart during his visit on 8 March.
As my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham explained, the three Greek doctors accused of manslaughter were acquitted on appeal on 9 February. Our deputy head of mission from Athens and our consular staff on Rhodes attended the trial to provide support to the Cummings family. Our consular staff have given additional practical support to the family by attending each court hearing. That is exceptional, as our consular staff do not normally attend such court cases.
I understand that the appeal court's decision has caused more distress to the Cummings family in what has already been a tragic case. However, we cannot interfere in the Greek judicial process or comment while the case remains sub judice. We understand that the family's lawyer needs to study the appeal trial transcripts before he can determine whether there is a case to take to the supreme court. We will continue to monitor the case closely and remain in contact with Mr. and Mrs. Cummings on any developments. We also remain in close contact with hospital staff in Rhodes who have indicated that they would be willing to co-operate closely with the Cummings' lawyer during the appeal process. Once all legal avenues have been exhausted, we can examine what further options are available to the Cummings family if the appeal is unsuccessful.
I fully understand my hon. Friend's concerns about the circumstances of this case, but I would like to highlight the huge effort and commitment, which he generously acknowledged, of our consular staff throughout its duration. I assure the House that our staff will continue to pursue the Greek authorities regarding Christopher's missing kidney, and we hope that this distressing issue can be resolved as soon as possible.