A widow has spoken for the first time about a Thomas Cook/P&O “cruise from hell” and the death of her husband.
Sitting on the sofa in the lounge of her riverside home Pammy Matthews, walking stick propped alongside, surveys the photographs of her late husband John a few feet away on the immaculately polished table.
Emotion is written all over her face.
“I still miss him,” she says, blinking back the tears as she reaches for one of the photos.
“He was the love of my life. Life with him was bliss. He was a wonderful, wonderful man.”
Pammy and John met on holiday in Canada in 2000.
I feel like I’ve been abandoned. It’s not about the money. That’s gone. I just want someone, somewhere to say sorry.Pammy Matthews
It was, says Pammy, love at first sight and they married three years later.
After retiring, they moved to Dogdyke, near Coningsby in Lincolnshire.
In 2013, the couple - then both aged 71 - set off on a luxury cruise aboard Arcadia. The ship is owned by P&O and the holiday was booked by telephone through Peterborough based Thomas Cook who arranged insurance through White Horse Ireland Ltd.
Pammy is convinced her husband would still be alive, if they hadn’t gone on ‘the holiday of a lifetime’.
On the first night, John collapsed in the bathroom of their cabin. Pammy, who was asleep, did not find him until the following morning. John was rushed to the ship’s medical room and was treated for three days.
Pammy accepts John had cancer but was in remission. Crucially, she can’t recall exactly what was said when she discussed insurance with a Thomas Cook representative when booking the cruise.
She did mention the condition (cancer) to the ship’s doctor but is adamant she believed he was being treated for a serious chest infection.
After three days, the ship docked at Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia.
Pammy, who is registered disabled, and John - on a stretcher - were, she says, ‘dumped’ on the quayside as the ship sailed away.
She does not blame P&O. She says the ship’s medical staff and crew were ‘amazing’.
P&O had arranged for a local man to take them to a hospital, after Pammy claims they had agreed to pay him £250.
P&O has since confirmed the man was their port agent. They say the £250 was ‘not for his services’ but to cover any costs incurred.
One night in the hospital was enough for Pammy. “It was a hell hole,” she says. “I had to get him out.”
With the help of the agent, John was moved to another hospital where conditions were slightly better.
Pammy, with the help of the agent, found a city centre hotel. She tried to contact the British Consulate.
After several calls, Pammy says a woman at the consulate told her ‘that they couldn’t help and should get themselves home.’ She also tried to contact her insurance company - Irish based White Horse.
Pammy visited John in hospital for a week before doctors said he could go home.
The couple had to pay for flights to Gatwick.
As they left hospital, staff demanded Pammy paid a £4,500 bill for medical treatment.
She adds: “They told me if I didn’t pay, they would call the police and we would be arrested and not allowed out of the country.”
Pammy paid by credit card. The expense emptied their bank account.
She explains: “When I got to the airport, I had to manage John on my own. He was in a borrowed wheelchair. I didn’t know where I was, where I was going. There was no-one to help.”
Pammy says the plane’s captain - after hearing about their plight - gave them £20 for a drink. The crew banded together and arranged for an overnight stay at a hotel. The following morning, the couple travelled to Dogdyke by taxi. The cost? Another £250.
Neighbours later drove to Southampton to pick up the couple’s luggage.
John never recovered. Within days, he was in hospital and spent time in a hospice. He came home to die...three months later.
In the last two years, Pammy has written countless letters and made even more phone calls. She’s contacted Thomas Cook, her insurers, even Prime Minister David Cameron.
“No-one wants to know,” she adds, clutching a copy of the letter from the Prime Minister’s office.
Pammy admits the stress of fighting for justice - and the loss of John - means she’s twice contemplated taking her own life.
She says: “I feel like I’ve been abandoned. It’s not about the money. That’s gone. I just want someone, somewhere to say sorry.”
*White Horse Insurance Ireland Limited says it takes all customer claims very seriously and thoroughly investigated the Matthews’ claim.
They say the claim was originally declined in 2013, and since then White Horse Insurance has received no contact or correspondence.
A spokesman from White Horse Insurance Ltd said: “We are very sorry to hear of the Matthews’ family circumstances.
“Regrettably, as Mr Matthews’ pre-existing medical conditions were not disclosed, the claim for medical and associated expenses was not covered by his insurance policy.
“We would like to reiterate to all holidaymakers how important it is that they fully review their policy cover and to fully declare any pre-existing medical conditions.”
A Thomas Cook spokesman said: “We are concerned to hear of the Matthews party’s experience.
“In this instance, Thomas Cook acted as a vendor on behalf of P&O Cruises, with whom the booking was made.
“We have liaised with our colleagues at the cruise company with regards to this booking, and it is our understanding that P&O will be contacting the customer with a view to addressing their concerns.”
P&O said they had ‘no official’ comment to make.