Gu Kailai escapes execution for British businessman Neil Heywood's murder

Thumb_angus-walker
Gu Kailai and her former aide Zhang Xiaojun are escorted into the courtroom
Gu Kailai and her former aide Zhang Xiaojun are escorted into the courtroom Photo: CCTV

She's escaped execution, sentenced to death but suspended for two years, Gu Kailai could be freed from jail within 10 years after being found guilty of killing British business consultant Neil Heywood.

Outside the court in the eastern city of Hefei, hundreds of miles from Beijing and chosen to be far from perceived political influence, a lawyer for the Heywood family spoke briefly saying he respected the court's decision.

Neil Heywood had a close relationship with Gu Kailai, ITV News understands she was godmother to his son and that she had once asked him to leave his Chinese wife and two children and move to Chongqing in the South West of China to live near her.

British businessman Neil Heywood
British businessman Neil Heywood was found dead in his hotel room in China last year Credit: Reuters

Gu's husband Bo Xilai was the powerful party boss of Chongqing, he was destined for the very top, expected to get a seat on the ruling Standing Commitee of the Politburo; a 9 man cabinet which rules over 20% of the world's population.

The court heard she'd lured her British family friend to a hotel, in Chongqing, last November, and after he got drunk she poisoned him with cyanide.

A court official said Gu Kailai has been suffering from "mental disorders".

In her personal statement to the court today she said: "This case has been like a huge stone weighing on me for more than half a year. What a nightmare."

Gu Kailai seen as she receives a suspended death sentence for Neil Heywood's murder
Gu Kailai seen as she receives a suspended death sentence for Neil Heywood's murder Credit: CCTV

A close friend told me Neil Heywood had been asking Gu Kailai for money, he'd been helping the family as a go between with companies in the UK for years but felt he hadn't been properly paid.

The belief is that Gu Kailai wrongly thought that Neil Heywood was a threat to her, an email presented to court claimed to show the British family friend had been threatening Bo Guagua: the couple's son, who'd been at Mr Heywood's old school: Harrow but has more recently been living and studying in the USA.

Gu's husband, Bo Xilai, is now in Party custody, the death of Neil Heywood sparked a scandal which ruined his chances of an expected promotion to China's ruling committee.

China's former Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai
China's former Chongqing Municipality Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai Credit: Reuters

In his wife's statement she apologises for the damage done: "...I suffered a mental breakdown after learning my son was in jeopardy..the case has produced great losses to the Party and the country..."

British diplomats were in court today, back in February the UK Embassy in Beijing, after talks with the Foreign Secretary William Hague, asked the Chinese authorities to investigate the death of Neil Heywood.

British diplomats were present in court as Gu Kailai was sentenced
British diplomats were present in court as Gu Kailai was sentenced Credit: APTN

At first the family and UK consulate in Chongqing accepted the official police report that he had died from "excess alcohol consumption", even thought friends say Neil Heywood was not known to drink heavily.

He was allowed to be cremated without a postmortem.

It wasn't until February the 6th this year that serious doubts were raised, the police chief from Chongqing made a dash for the US consulate in Chengdu, a city a few hours drive from Chongqing. There he told US diplomats of his suspicions about the British man's death and the rest if now history.

The verdict will not draw a line under this case, friends of Neil Heywood believe there are still many unanswered questions, and the fate of Bo Xilai, Gu Kailai's once powerful husband is yet to be decided by China's political leaders.

Enemies of Bo who wanted to prevent a charismatic, ambitious Party boss with links to the West rise to the very top must feel they got what they wanted.