A city of silence: Mystery over British businessman's death

Angus Walker

Former ITV News Correspondent

Neil Heywood was involved in a business dispute with the wife of prominent Chinese politician Bo Xilai Credit: www.hurun.net

It feels as though no one in this city wants anyone to know anything about the life or death of British Businessman Neil Heywood.

Chongqing, where he died last November, is a city of silence as well as secrets.

The UK Consulate in this vast metropolis is not commenting. It is the staff at the consulate who would have helped Mr Heywood's family and his Chinese wife when his death was discovered in a hotel.

The British diplomats are keeping very quiet, refusing to reveal which hotel Neil Heywood spent his last night in.

The Heywood family are not speaking according to the UK Embassy in Beijing.

It must awful to lose a husband, father and son in terrible circumstances, the official police report said he had died from excess alcohol consumption, only to find 4 months later his death is being dragged into the biggest political scandal to grip China for decades.

The Chongqing Party Chief, Bo Xilai, was deposed after a major falling out with his long time partner and city police chief Wang Lijun. The pair had reputedly cleaned up this city which had a bad reputation for mafia style gangs and vice. In the end it was the police chief accusing the party boss of being a gangster.

Chinese politician Bo Xilai was recently sacked amid allegations of corruption Credit: Reuters

Wang fled to the US consulate in Chengdu on February 6 and allegedly told US diplomats that Neil Heywood had been poisoned and that Bo's family was involved in corruption. This led to Bo's high profile sacking two weeks later.

The country has been gripped by the saga which, for the first time in China's history, has been played out in real time on the 300 million or so Chinese micro blog sites. There were even rumours of a coup attempted to revenge Bo's demise.

The State Department is refusing to discuss the exact details but will not confirm or deny the story that Wang made the claims about Mr Heywood's death.

The UK Embassy in Beijing is notably refusing to say when doubts about the British Businessman's death were raised, staff are sticking to 'earlier this year' which seems to be a clear attempt to avoid mentioning February 6; and Wang's chats with the US.

What we now know is that Wang first went to the UK Consulate in Chongqing. Why he then made a mad dash for the US Consulate we do not fully know.

The Picture emerging of Neil Heywood is of an 'old China hand' even at the age of 41 he appears to have been involved in big business in this fast moving country.

A photo on the Hurun website, a business organisation which publishes an annual Chinese rich list, shows him looking fit, although older than his 41 years, and taking part in a "luxury workshop".

A brief CV online claims he was able to advise on the sale of the London Taxi makers to a Chinese firm. The biography also describes him as one of the top British/China experts. He lived in Bejing, had small children and powerful friends.

Bo Xilai's spokesman has told the Financial Times that he was a family friend of the Bo family. Mr Heywood went to Harrow, so did Bo's son. Mr Heywood helped him organise a ball at Oxford when Bo's son was there, the event had a Silk Road theme.

He did not have a formal business link to Bo but if you wanted a meeting with the boss of one of the world's largest cities then Neil might be able to help, according business contacts I have spoken to.

Aston Martin cars were another luxury product in Neil Heywood's portfolio. He was not directly employed by the firm who made cars for James Bond but he could sell you one.

He fits the bill of many British entrepreneurs who I have met in China, their business cards offer a host of interests and services. It makes sense to have lots of fingers in a country of so many pies.

Neil Heywood was different it seems, he had access to one of the most powerful Party bosses in China. Bo Xilai was tipped for the top: a seat on the ruling Standing Committee of the Politburo.

Nine members who have ultimate control over 20% of the world's population. Incredible power and terrible power struggles to go with it.

We now have three victims of the Chongqing incident, a rising star Party Boss sacked for corruption, despite his saintly image, a police chief now under house arrest and a British Businessman whose death this city is keeping a secret.