A London-based law firm said on Wednesday that it has been retained by sixteen girls from the countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to represent them in upcoming legal action to be taken against British Airways. The girls, who were between five and 13 years old at the time, allege that from 2003 to 2013, one of the pilots for the airline sexually abused them while on layovers for the company.
A coroner testified in court Wednesday that the pilot accused of sexually abusing the girls, First Officer Simon Wood, killed himself on August 18 of last year by jumping in front of a train. The suicide occurred just two weeks prior to a scheduled court appearance in which Wood was to answer to charges that he indecently assaulted a girl under 16 years of age, took indecent photos of a child and possessed child pornography. Wood had previously been arrested for indecent assault in November 2001, but the prosecutors at that time found that there was not enough evidence to press charges. The case was re-opened after the Crown Prosecution Service learned of new reports of similar crimes alleged to have been committed overseas as well as what seemed to be evidence that Woods did possess child pornography.
Attorney Nichola Marshall with the law firm Leigh Day believes that because Wood, 54, was a British Airways pilot, he was able to take advantage of the community service work performed by the airline and the proximity it gave him to vulnerable girls. Specifically, Woods was highly involved in distributing donations by British Airlines to orphanages and schools. Marshall said that her firm is sending a team to meet with potential other victims in Kenya and Uganda who have since come forward with similar allegations.
The Associated Press spoke with the impoverished mother of two Kenyan girls who are part of the lawsuit. Her family has had a relationship with Wood for almost ten years in which Wood was like a member of their extended family. She reports that while the pilot was laid over in Kenya, he gave her girls, ages 9 and 16, gifts that she could not afford to buy for them and brought them both to downtown Nairobi’s Intercontinental Hotel, where he would occasionally give them baths. The mother also revealed that Wood bathed other children besides her daughters. She said that the girls knew that Simon would bring them presents, “but I don’t think they knew what was being done.”
She also revealed that her oldest girl has tried to kill herself, while the youngest daughter felt for a long time as though nobody cared about her. She is seeking “justice” and feels that British Airways was aware of the pilot’s abuse of the girls and did nothing to stop it. She allowed that no amount of money would heal the damage done to the girls by Wood, but that any money awarded to her girls would be set aside for education and therapy.
British Airways expressed horror and shock at the charges, saying that Wood’s activities were completely distinct from his employment with the airline. The company also extended sympathy to the girls who were abused.
By Jennifer Pfalz