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Foreign Secretary statement concerning the death of a British national in China

Foreign Secretary William Hague has updated Parliament on developments concerning the death of British national Neil Heywood in China in November 2011.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

I wish to inform the House of developments concerning the death of a British national, Mr Neil Heywood, in Chongqing in the People’s Republic of China on 14 November 2011. Mr Heywood’s body was found in a Chongqing hotel room on 15 November 2011.

On 16 November 2011, consular officials from the British Consulate-General in Chongqing were notified of Mr Heywood’s death by fax from the Public Security Bureau of the Chongqing municipality of China. Chinese officials informed our staff that the cause of his death was overconsumption of alcohol.

In line with FCO consular procedure, consular officials provided immediate and full consular support to Mr Heywood’s family in China as well to his family in the United Kingdom. On 18 November, the family informed consular staff of their decision to have Mr Heywood’s body cremated, and confirmed this to us both in China and from the UK. An FCO official duly attended the cremation ceremony. We continue to provide full consular support to Mr Heywood’s family in China and the UK, including to Mrs Heywood, who is a Chinese national, holding a valid UK visa.

Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne, was in Chongqing on 15 and 16 November. He met Mr Bo Xilai on the morning of 16 November. Ministers are not routinely told about the death of British nationals or other consular cases as they are so numerous. However, we need to make sure that they are told in relevant cases and we will review our procedures.

The Chinese police findings as to the cause of Mr Heywood’s death were called into question subsequently. Foreign Office officials were first made aware of rumours within the British expatriate community in China that there may have been suspicious circumstances surrounding Mr Heywood’s death from 18 January.

Allegations about Mr Heywood’s death were made by Former Chongqing Vice-Mayor and Chief of Police Wang Lijun during a visit to the US Consulate in Chengdu on 6 February.

Prompted by these increasing concerns, FCO officials informed me on 7 February of the case and the circumstances surrounding it. I immediately instructed them to make urgent representations to the Chinese authorities and to seek an investigation into Mr Heywood’s death.

On 15 February, after establishing as much information as possible and contacting the family, the Deputy Head of Mission of the British Embassy in Beijing met officials from the Consular Department of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to convey this message. He informed them of our concerns about Mr Heywood’s death and the suspicion that he had been murdered, and conveyed our formal request that the Chinese authorities investigate.

On 21 February, HM Ambassador to China made the same request to Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Vice-Minister for Europe.

Our Ambassador repeated the request a week later to the Director General for Europe. In the absence of a formal Chinese response, on 22 March, the FCO’s Consular Director raised the case in the same terms with a visiting senior Chinese consular official in London.

On 10 April, before their official public announcement, the Chinese authorities informed HM Ambassador to China that an investigation into Neil Heywood’s death had begun and that proper judicial process would be followed.

I welcome the fact that the Chinese authorities have now committed themselves to undertake the investigation into Mr Heywood’s death that we sought. We now wish to see the conclusion of a full investigation that observes due process, is free from political interference, exposes the truth behind this tragic case, and ensures that justice is done.

We will continue to engage with the Chinese authorities on the progress of the investigation and we stand ready to provide any assistance necessary. FCO officials will remain in close touch with Mr Heywood’s family as this investigation proceeds.

Published 17 April 2012