By Alistair Smout
LONDON (Reuters) - "Cowardly" Tunisian security forces let down the victims of a shooting at a beach hotel, making "deliberate and unjustifiable" delays in their journey to the scene, a UK inquiry found on Tuesday.
A gunman killed 30 Britons and eight others on a Tunisian resort in June 2015, having walked nearly two miles on his killing spree before being shot dead by security forces. Islamic State claimed responsibility.
Summing up after a six-week inquest, Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith severely criticized the security forces, saying that their response had been "at best shambolic and at worst cowardly".
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An inquest by Tunisian authorities was also critical of local security forces' response.
Loraine-Smith did however praise the "conspicuous personal courage" showed by some staff and guests and said neither the tour operator nor the hotel had been neglectful in the unlawful killings.
The British victims had booked their trips through Thomson Holidays, which is owned by TUI Group.
Families of those killed have been critical of TUI for not highlighting British government warnings around travel to Tunisia in their advertising for holidays, and not making it easier to cancel trips following a previous attack in Tunis.
A lawyer for the victims' families said they would begin civil proceedings against TUI for damages.
"It is now crucial that the whole travel industry learns from what happened in Sousse to reduce the risk of similar catastrophic incidents in future," a statement from Clive Garner at Irwin Mitchell, which represents 22 of the families, said.
The resort attack took place in Sousse, 140 km (87 miles) south of Tunis, three months after an attack on a museum in Tunis, with foreign tourists taken hostage.
Loraine-Smith said that TUI did not update their website following the Tunis attack, and the firm's phone operators did not direct concerned customers to the government's travel advice for Tunisia in the wake of the museum shooting.
TUI said in a statement "steps to raise awareness" of the government's travel advice had subsequently been taken.
While critical of the security arrangements at the Tunisian hotel, Loraine-Smith said that the case did not meet the requirements for a finding of "neglect", as the tourists went on holiday freely.
In Britain, a coroner's inquest establishes the facts of an incident but does not assign legal blame or guilt.
(Editing by Michael Holden and Louise Ireland)