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Child sex abuse case to include airline, lawyer says

By JASON STRAZIUSO The Associated Press

This article was published July 31, 2014 at 5:20 a.m.

NAIROBI, Kenya -- A London law firm representing 16 girls in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania said Wednesday that it is initiating legal proceedings against British Airways over allegations that one of its pilots sexually abused the girls.

A mother of two of the girls said 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 said during a court hearing Wednesday in Britain. 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.

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 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 said a team will be traveling to meet with other potential victims who have recently stepped forward in Kenya and Uganda.

Information for this article was contributed by Danica Kirka of The Associated Press.

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