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Tunisian beach gunman 'walked nearly two miles' before being shot, UK inquest hears

By Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) - The gunman who murdered 30 Britons on a Tunisian beach in 2015 had been able to walk nearly two miles on his killing spree before being shot dead by security forces, inquests into the deaths heard on Monday.

Evidence critical of local authorities' response and of tour operator TUI is expected to form part of the inquiry, a lawyer said.

The inquests, being held collectively at the Royal Courts of Justice, are expected to last around six weeks.

They will examine whether changes to security arrangements and travel advice from both the British government and TUI were sufficient in the light of another attack in the capital Tunis three months earlier.

The beach shooting in June 2015, in which eight foreign nationals also died, took place in the resort in Sousse, 140 km (87 miles) south of Tunis. Islamic State claimed responsibility.

The British victims had booked their trips through Thomson Holidays, which is owned by TUI Group. In a pre-inquest hearing, the lawyer representing families of 20 of the victims said TUI had been in effect "hiding" warnings against travel to Tunisia.

Lawyer Samantha Leek, Counsel to the Inquests, said "the evidence is generally critical of TUI Group."

TUI said in a statement it is "taking a full and active role in the inquests into the deaths."

"The safety of our customers is of paramount importance to us," it added. "Like others, we want to understand the specific circumstances that led to this terrible incident."

VIRTUAL MAP

The court saw a virtual map which led viewers along the reconstructed the route of the gunman, with London's Metropolitan Police calculating that he had traveled 1.8 miles (2.9 km) between being dropped off by accomplices and being shot dead.

The British government is also facing questions over its travel advice in the lead-up to the attack.

Senior Foreign Office official Jane Marriott said Tunisia was rated as having a "high" risk even before the earlier Tunis attack and travel advice had been adjusted the following day to say that "further attacks are possible".

However, she said it had been determined by government officials in the subsequent days that the criteria for advising against travel to Tunisia had not been fulfilled.

The gunman, Seifeddine Rezgui, was shot dead by police and Tunisian authorities have conducted their own investigation.

Leek said a summary of the Tunisian report, which criticized local security forces' response, would feature in the inquests.

(Editing by Stephen Addison)

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