Neil Heywood death: Trial of Gu Kailai begins in China

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Neil Heywood Bo Xilai Gu Kailai
Gu Kailai is accused of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood. Photo: Stringer China / Reuters

It will be a show trial. Gu Kailai is being judged guilty before she has her day in court. The state media has already declared that the evidence against her is "irrefutable and substantial".

Unless there is an astonishing twist to the Chongqing incident she will be found to have murdered the British businessman, and family friend, Neil Heywood in a hotel villa last November.

Gu Kailai, 53, was once a high flying civil lawyer who wrote a book about how to win court cases in the US. This case is one she cannot win.

Since she was detained in mid April her fate has been sealed.

Today, she won't be allowed to be represented by her own lawyer.

She can't plead not guilty. The case will revolve about how much mitigation she can offer. If she has confessed, as the rumours suggest, the judges may reduce the sentence. She may get death, but suspended, a compromise.

She and her husband, 63 year-old Bo, were as close as you can get to Chinese royalty.

A power couple on the brink of becoming one of the most powerful political families in the world.

Bo Xilai had been considered a certain choice for the Standing Committee of the Politburo.

The committee that rules over 20% of the world's population, taking the strategic decisions which will, one way or another, affect us all.

Then, in February, their power, dreams and hopes crashed around them as rumours of the murder of Mr Heywood surfaced.

Neil Heywood Bo Xilai Gu Kailai
Bo Xilai (R) and his wife Gu Kailai were one of the most powerful couples in China. Credit: REUTERS/Stringer

Neil Heywood was 41, an ex-public school, English gent according to people who knew him.

He had been in China for more than 10 years. He knew the place well, spoke the language and he had a Chinese wife.

He lived in the exclusive suburbs of Beijing and his daughter went to an overseas offshoot of Dulwich school.

He drove a pale blue Jag, with a union jack bumper sticker and a number plate which read 007.

There were those who did think he was some kind of secret agent.

One business associate who spoke to me said he had thought that Mr Heywood was "one of them" because he gave little away about his background and didn't seem to move in the same circles as other business consultants in a similar game.

He had also worked for the discreet business intelligence advisors; Hakluyt, a firm founded by an ex-MI6 officer.

In the months after Mr Heywood's murder; the Foreign Secretary William Hague took the most unusual step of publicly stating that Neil Heywood had not been on the staff payroll of MI6.

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The Foreign Office said Neil Heywood was not a British spy after his death. Credit: REUTERS/Stringer

At first his death was treated as caused by 'excess alcohol', that's what the police in Chongqing told the British embassy.

The Heywood family accepted this, and allowed a quick cremation to go ahead.

Then on February 6, the Chongqing police chief turned up hundreds of miles away at the nearest US Consulate. He wanted asylum and he had grave concerns about the death of Neil Heywood. He made the shocking claim that the wife of his boss; Bo Xilai, had murdered a foreigner.

That's like accusing a British cabinet minister's wife of a killing. The extraordinary information sparked a massive scandal, led to rumours of a coup and shone an unwelcome light into the secretive lives of China's leaders.

Neil Heywood was poisoned according to state media.

Gu Kailai and a member of her staff killed him because he was threatening the 'personal security' of her son, 24 year-old Bo Guagua.

The only child is thought to be in the US after graduating from his master’s degree in public policy at Harvard earlier this year.

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Bo Guagua is believed to be in the US. Credit: REUTERS/Stringer

Neil Heywood was a 'fixer' for Gu Kailai according to a British businessman who knew them both.

In the end it seems the knowledge he had of the powerful family's business made him a liability.

There is still a sense among diplomats in Beijing that Bo Xilai had made political enemies who wanted to stop him getting his seat on the top table, the Standing Committee.

Once it became clear to Gu Kailai that the couple's financial affairs were being looking into by Beijing. She realised Neil Heywood was a potential target for investigators.

Would he reveal that she had been trying to illegally ship large amounts of money out of the country? Much of it to pay for her son's expensive private education in England; at Neil Heywood's old school Harrow.

At some point Neil Heywood went from friend to foe, and it was fatal.