19:05, October 22 304 0 theguardian.com

2019-10-22 19:05:04
Report calls for more support for relatives of Britons murdered abroad

Bereaved families who lose a loved one to homicide overseas deserve far more support from the Foreign Office and other agencies, a report by the victims’ commissioner for England and Wales urges.

As many as 90 Britons are killed abroad every year, leaving relatives grappling with foreign legal systems, untranslated documents, large bills and problems about how to repatriate bodies, according to Vera Baird QC.

The study, Struggling for Justice, says help offered is often patchy and sometimes inadequate. Highlighting individuals’ difficulties, the review makes 17 recommendations to the government for improvement.

Baird, a former solicitor general and Labour MP, said: “To lose a loved one to murder is a horrific experience no matter where the crime takes place. However, for the families of people who lose their lives to homicide abroad there are additional financial, legal and logistical burdens which add to the stress and emotional turmoil of sudden bereavement.

“That these families are not entitled to criminal injuries compensation is particularly unjust given the additional financial burdens they face. One of the victims we spoke to had to sell her house to cover the legal costs associated with her mother’s death; this cannot be right.

“I want these families to have the same access to interpreter and translation services that are on offer to victims and defendants in the UK where English is not their first language. I also want to be sure support agencies, including the FCO, National Homicide Service and the police are working together seamlessly to provide timely information and in a sensitive and supportive way.”

Her report draws on the experiences of bereaved families. A few had positive stories but most encountered significant problems.

One case study explained how Claire received a knock on the door at home in the UK from two local police community support officers. “They asked if James was her son and told her that James had been killed on a quad bike in Greece,” the report states. “They wrote down the number of the FCO on a newspaper and promptly left. The whole conversation took place in the hallway before Claire even had a chance to invite them in to sit down.”

In another case, Emmy heard nothing from the British police and called American officers herself to confirm what she had been told. “Sometime later,” the report says, “when Emmy called the Home Office to ask why she had not been informed by the authorities about her daughter’s death, the official’s response was: ‘Well, you are informing us now’.”

Unless a victim’s body is repatriated, there can be no inquest in the UK. One relative was reported as telling the charity Murdered Abroad: “As painful as it was to hear that there were marks on Joanna’s wrists where she had been tied up and strangulation marks on her neck, I needed to be sure of the facts. I was hearing it in English, in a British court and I believed that what I was hearing was the truth about what had happened to Joanna. You can handle the facts, it’s the unknown which is most painful”.

Among recommendations made in the victims’ commissioner’s report were that the bereaved should be eligible to claim criminal injuries compensation, the FCO should take responsibility for translating all key documents including postmortem reports and that only police officers trained to deliver death notifications should be allocated to the role wherever possible.

‘I don’t think I have heard the truth yet’

Trudy Cowan lost her husband in suspicious circumstances when he was traveling through Italy three years ago, but says she received little support from either the Foreign Office or the police.

Russell Cowan, 44, from Chesterfield in Derbyshire, had gone with friends on a charity car rally in June 2016, raising funds to combat prostate cancer.

They had stopped near Lake Como and he had been due to return home a few days later. On Saturday 4 June, they went out for a meal and Russell left alone to go back to their hotel. His body was found after he had supposedly fallen over a steep perimeter wall. The inquest later said it could not rule out third party involvement in his death.

Trudy has hired private investigators and an Italian lawyer to try to find out what really happened. She believes it may not have been an accident.

“The Foreign Office said they could not interfere in another country’s jurisdiction,” she said. “I don’t think I have heard the truth yet.

“The Foreign Office just directed me to a website and some leaflets after he died. I was told they didn’t have anyone able to translate for me. You go into a country where you don’t speak the language or understand the legal system. That’s really poor. There was no family liaison officer provided to give advice and help out. That would have made a huge difference.”

Her case in Italy continues next month.