Lancaster couple’s Tunisia story: “It could have been us”

Flowers on the beach near the RIU Imperial Marhaba. Steve Parsons/PA Wire
Flowers on the beach near the RIU Imperial Marhaba. Steve Parsons/PA Wire

A Lancaster man has told how he heard gun fire erupting “like fireworks” as he walked across the Tunisia beach where 30 British tourists were shot dead.

Richard Walkden was holidaying in the popular resort of Port El Kantaoui, just north of Sousse, with his girlfriend Laura Jordan when a gunman opened fire.

Richard Walkden

Richard Walkden

Richard was staying at the Marhaba Beach Hotel, just kilometres away from the beach and Hotel Rui Imperial Marhaba and neighbouring Hotel Rui Bellevue Park where 38 people were massacred.

The 43-year-old, who grew up in Bolton-le-Sands, was walking to the next village past the hotel when he heard the first round of shots.

He said: “We are lucky to be alive, it could have easily been us.

“We heard gun fire on the beach and it just sounded like a load of fireworks going off, then security forces said there had been a shooting.

“There was all kinds of rumours flying about, one of the terrorists had already escaped, they could have easily shot us.

“Beforehand there was no inkling that something like this would happen. It was a very jovial atmosphere, afterwards everyone was in a state of shock.”

Witnesses described how the gunman, Tunisian student Seifeddine Rezgui, arrived by jet ski on Friday.

He made his way along the beach, pulled a Kalashnikov from a parasol and opened fire at tourists on sunloungers.

The jihadist group Islamic State (IS) have claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Rezgui was later shot by police as he prayed in an alley.

Richard, a former sub-editor with the Lancaster Guardian, said: “It is horribly shocking, I feel for the families and Tunisia, this has destroyed the country.

“The majority of people shot were British, it sounds like a deliberate attack on the British, it is such a tragedy.

“Security guards there were all unarmed at the hotel so they couldn’t have done anything anyway.”

The couple were after a “nice beach holiday” when they arrived at the resort on Sunday, June 14 for two weeks.

Flying with Thomson, Richard and Laura chose the country for its beautiful beaches and relaxed atmosphere.

“Tunisia is a major beach holiday so a lot of people spend their time on the beach - all the hotels are based on the beach.

“It is a great place, really nice people, a beautiful country.”

The couple decided to stick to their original flight time rather than leave early like the other holidaymakers in the Marhaba Beach Hotel.

Richard said: “We heard a few people say they were going home straight away, it was just a state of panic.

“We were down to fly back on Sunday and the attack happened on the Friday, a terrorist could have easily blown the plane up coming back. It is a difficult one - to come home or fly back?”

The couple flew back on June 28.

Whilst staying near in the resort Richard heard many rumours among witnesses and officials - one being that Rezgui’s Kalashnikov gun had jammed during the shooting.

“It could have been a lot worse if it hadn’t have jammed.

“I feel for the 50,000 Tunisians who are employed in the tourism industry, they are going to be losing their jobs because they won’t have tourists.

“Words can’t express what the families of the victims are going through.

“My heartfelt condolences go out to them.”