Back in Beijing: the minister who was in the dark about Neil Heywood's death

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British businessman Neil Heywood whose murder has caused political upheaval in China
British businessman Neil Heywood whose murder has caused political upheaval in China Photo: Reuters/Stringer

FCO Minister Jeremy Browne has just been speaking to the media. He is the minister who was in the Chinese city of Chongqing, by sad coincidence, when the death of Neil Heywood was discovered last November.

That day the minister was filmed meeting the Party Chief of the city Bo Xilai, whose wife is now accused of murdering Mr Heywood. The British businessman had been a family friend of the Bo family. The Minister wasn't told about the death while he was in Chongqing.

Neil Heywood murder: Foreign Minister Jeremy Browne
Foreign Minister Jeremy Browne

It wasn't until early February that the UK Government requested an investigation into the death of Mr Heywood.

At first the death had been treated as "routine" according to the minister who was asked about how the UK Consulate in the Chinese city had handled the case.

"We need to have reporting structures that work in practice as well as in theory..." he said today.

The implication is that reporting procedures didn't work as well as they should. Mr Browne wasn't clear on whether he was referring to tightening up the reporting of deaths to ministers if they happen to be in the same country or city as a UK national who dies.

The question asked had been whether staff at the consulate had expressed concerns about the nature of the death of Mr Heywood in the days after he had died, and then his cremation, without a post-mortem. The police said he had died from excess alcohol consumption at the time.

Mr Cameron met Li Changchun where he raised concerns about the death of Neil Heywood last month
Mr Cameron met Li Changchun where he raised concerns about the death of Neil Heywood last month Credit: ITV News

The minister said David Cameron had sought assurances that the Chinese investigation will get to the truth of the mysterious death of Neil Heywood, despite the high level political scandal surrounding the case.

The UK Ambassador also told us that he hopes "the Chinese authorities will take full account of the welfare of British nationals involved" i.e. Neil Heywood's family (his two children are still in Beijing.)

The Ambassador wouldn't go into detail about whether Mrs Heywood, who is Chinese, would now be allowed to live in the UK. When asked about his hopes for the investigation into Mr Heywood's death, he said simply "the truth".