NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A London law firm representing 16 girls in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania said Wednesday it is initiating legal proceedings against British Airways over allegations that one of its pilots sexually abused the girls.
A mother of two girls who were allegedly abused told The Associated Press that during layovers in Kenya the pilot showered her impoverished children with gifts and took them to the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Nairobi, where he sometimes bathed them.
The 54-year-old British Airways pilot, Simon Wood, committed suicide last year, a coroner told a court hearing in Britain on Wednesday. Wood was able to abuse the girls because of his employment with the airline and the company's community outreach work, said lawyer Nichola Marshall of the firm Leigh Day.
"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," Marshall said in a statement.
British Airways said it was shocked and horrified by the allegations, which the company said appeared to be related to activities "entirely outside the scope of his employment with British Airways." The airline extended its sympathies to the victims.
"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 company said.
The mother of the two girls said her family's relationship with Wood started nearly a decade ago. She described the type of grooming behavior that experts say pedophiles will carry out with their victims.
"He would bring them presents, books, dolls. We couldn't afford the dolls, the storybooks, the shoes, the clothes, all that," she said. "They knew if they went to Simon they would get a present. ... But I don't think they knew what was being done."
The Associated Press is withholding the mother's name because it does not generally identify possible victims of sexual abuse.
The mother described Wood as an extended member of the family.
"He seemed to love children so much. I allowed him to be with my daughters because I thought he loved them. Sometimes he would give them a bath, not just my children but others," she said.
Wood was struck by a train and died two weeks before he was to appear in court last August. He had faced charges of indecent assault of a girl under the age of 16 and making and possessing child pornography.
At a court hearing Wednesday, a coroner recorded a verdict that Wood committed suicide, a court press officer said.
Marshall, the lawyer, said a team will be traveling to meet with other potential victims who have recently come forward in Kenya and Uganda.
The mother of the two girls said her oldest daughter, now 16, has tried to commit suicide. She said she hopes the outcome of the case is "justice," even after Wood died. She said she believes British Airways knew the abuse was taking place and allowed it to happen. But she said money won't cure her girls' problems.
"Whatever the amount of money is, it can't erase what happened to them," she said. If money is paid out "then of course it would be for education, to put them through counseling session, though no amount of money can ever be enough."
Associated Press reporter Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.