By Liam Brolan, Lecturer in Criminology at Birmingham City University
According to figures published by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 83 British people fell victim to homicide in a foreign country in the year 2014. Cases of homicide abroad can often attract a large amount of media attention and consequently the impact of the murder reaches far beyond the local area in which it has occurred. A prominent example is that of 23-year-old David Miller and 24-year-old Hannah Witheridge who were murdered on a beach in Kho Tao, Thailand in September 2014. Described at the time as “one of the highest-profile consular cases in the world” (The Guardian, 2014) the murder received international media coverage from the initial stages of the investigation through to the subsequent trial and conviction of two Burmese workers, Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo – both of whom were sentenced to death.
However, what happens to those affected by homicide in a foreign country in the months and years that follow the initial media frenzy? Whilst these cases fade from the public consciousness, the lives of the families of the victim are changed forever. Where can they go to seek support?
Last week, I travelled to London to meet with Eve Henderson and Kim Spooner from the charity Murdered Abroad. Murdered Abroad provides support and assistance to those families within the United Kingdom who have been bereaved through the murder or manslaughter of a loved one in a foreign country. The charity, which is funded only by donations, offers reliable and independent advice to families in need, as well as working for change within the United Kingdom to improve the support that is available to them in the days, weeks and years after losing their loved one through homicide.
Director and Trustee, Eve Henderson’s husband, Roderick Henderson was killed in France in 1997, on a weekend away in Paris celebrating his birthday. Based on her own experiences of the difficulties associated with losing her husband, Eve – alongside another family whose loved one had been murdered in China – decided to set up Murdered Abroad in 2001 as a way of offering help and support to other families within the United Kingdom who may find themselves facing a similar situation.
Kim Spooner, who is also a Director and Trustee of the charity, joined Murdered Abroad after losing her sister, Lianne “Lee” Burns, when she was murdered in her home in April 2011 on the Caribbean island of St. Martin.
Drawing upon their combined experience of supporting bereaved families, both Eve and Kim were able to offer a fascinating, first-hand insight into the work that they do on a daily basis and also into the range of complex difficulties that families are faced with in the already traumatic circumstances of losing a loved one in a foreign country.
In particular, Eve and Kim stressed that there is a lack of consistent and reliable information available to families who have experienced homicide abroad. For example, in relation to repatriation, Eve and Kim described several cases whereby families – based on limited or incorrect information – have taken the decision to have their loved one buried or cremated in the country in which the murder occurred. The implications of such a decision are significant, as choosing not to repatriate means that there is no subsequent inquest/investigation into the murder in the United Kingdom. In fact, a study conducted by the charity in 2011, entitled ‘Who Cares for the Families?’ found that 82% of respondents (families affected by homicide abroad) were unaware that this was the case and several families have had to bear the additional pain of later learning the consequences of not repatriating.
Eve and Kim also emphasised the importance of prompt and clear communication between the relevant, supporting organisations and the families of individuals who fall victim to homicide in a foreign country. Amidst the chaos of dealing with repatriation, domestic and foreign police forces, unfamiliar legal processes and criminal justice systems – combined with the trauma and grief of losing a loved one in such complex circumstances – Eve and Kim stated that it is essential that families are kept up-to-date with the ongoing developments regarding their situation. Sadly, this is seldom the case and families are often left wondering what to do next – thankfully however, Murdered Abroad is there to help and they now provide continual support to an extensive network of families across the United Kingdom.
Since its formation in 2001, the charity has been instrumental in raising awareness of the struggle that many families face after the loss of a loved one abroad. They work tirelessly, providing face-to-face, practical support to families in need. In addition to this, they have spearheaded the development and publication of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Coroners’ Society of England and Wales. The document, entitled ‘Murder, Manslaughter and Infanticide of British Nationals Abroad’ was published in 2013 and ensures that the above-mentioned authorities provide an agreed standard of assistance to the deceased, their families and next of kin.
Through their proactive approach to improving the help and support that is available, Eve, Kim and others at Murdered Abroad are undoubtedly leading the way in ensuring that families receive the information they need, when they need it most. In summary, they offer an invaluable source of support to families across the United Kingdom who have been bereaved through the murder or manslaughter of a loved one abroad.
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