British Airways is to be sued for damages over claims one of its pilots sexually abused children i n African schools and orphanages.
Lawyers representing 16 young girls and women who claim First Officer Simon Wood assaulted them said the airline bears responsibility because he carried out the alleged attacks while on stopovers.
An inquest is due to be held into the death of Wood, 54, who was struck by a train in August while awaiting a court appearance accused of indecently assaulting a young girl and making indecent images of children.
Law firm Leigh Day said Wood allegedly molested youngsters during stopovers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania while flying for British Airways. Some of their clients are aged just eight.
Lawyer Nichola Marshall said: “We allege that Wood was able to abuse the victims, by reason of his employment with the airline, in particular through his involvement with the airlines’ community relations work.
“The schools and orphanages that our clients attended were all in receipt of charitable donations from the airline, and Wood played a key role in administering those donations, on behalf of British Airways.
“Our team will be travelling overseas over the coming weeks to meet with other potential victims in Nairobi and Uganda that have come forward more recently.”
Wood, from Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, died after being hit by a train near Potters Bar station on August 18. He had been due to appear at Southwark Crown Court in London on August 30 charged with one count of indecent assault of a girl under 16, two counts of making indecent photographs of a child and one count of possessing indecent images of a child, Scotland Yard said at the time.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said Wood was first arrested over an indecent assault allegation in November 2001 but prosecutors ruled there was insufficient evidence to charge him.
It reconsidered the case in July after receiving new details of similar alleged offences committed overseas and apparent evidence of indecent images.
At Easter 2002, Wood was among 20 crew members from two BA flights who volunteered to spend the holiday period with the Kenyan youngsters, showering the orphanage with presents, medicines and donations raised at home.
He told the Press Association, which covered the trip: “We play, sing, organise activities and generally entertain them. We become very close to the children.”
A British Airways spokesman said: “We were shocked and horrified to hear the allegations against Simon Wood, which appear to relate to his involvement in child-related activities entirely outside the scope of his employment with British Airways.
“Our sympathies are with the victims and it is disappointing that the conduct of one person has caused so much distress to the many thousands of decent people who engage in charitable works on a regular basis.”
The inquest into Wood’s death is due to be held at Hertfordshire Coroner’s Court.