Gu Kailai suspended death sentence for murder of Briton Neil Heywood

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 Photo: CCTV

A Chinese court has given Gu Kailai, the wife of ousted politician Bo Xilai, a suspended death sentence for murdering British businessman Neil Heywood.

Gu admitted poisoning Neil Heywood in November. She alleged that a business dispute between over money them led him to threaten her son, Bo Guagua.

The official Xinhua News Agency said she was depressed and on medication at the time.

Suspended death sentences are often commuted to life imprisonment in China. It means she could be sent to jail for at least the next 14 years. In a short statement He Zhengsheng, a lawyer for the Heywood family, said:

We respect the court's decision.

Zhang Xiaojun, an aide to the Bo household, was also sentenced to nine years in prison for acting as an accomplice to the poisoning of Neil Heywood.

Zhang Xiaojun, Gu Kailai's aide
Zhang Xiaojun, Gu Kailai's aide Credit: Reuters

Speaking after Gu Kailai's sentence, court official Tang Yigan said that Gu and family aide, Zhang Xiaojun, had told the court they would not appeal their sentences.

Tang said Gu told the court that the verdict was "fair and it shows special respect for the law, reality and life."

He also said that the court had considered Gu's testimony against others, her confession and repentance, and her "psychological impairment" as mitigating factors in sentencing.

But he said it rejected claims that Heywood's threats had prompted the crime, saying there was no evidence he intended to make good on them.

Gu's sentencing could be a prelude to formal punishment of Bo Xilai. The disgraced politician is under investigation for alleged violations of party rules, an accusation that covers corruption and abuse of power.

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

After the party leadership decides on those allegations, Bo Xilai could also face criminal charges related to the murder case.

British businessman Neil Heywood
British businessman Neil Heywood Credit: Reuters

Britain's embassy in China has welcomed the ruling that Gu Kailai has been convicted, but spared execution for murdering British businessman Neil Heywood. The embassy said it:

Welcomed the fact that the Chinese authorities have investigated the death of Neil Heywood, and tried those they identified as responsible.

An embassy spokesman also said Britain had:

Consistently made clear to the Chinese authorities that we wanted to see the trials in this case conform to international human rights standards and for the death penalty not to be applied.

Mr Heywood's death in a hotel was initially ruled an accident and put down to alcohol abuse, although his friends insisted he was not a heavy drinker.