Britain shares new details, calls for justice in Chinese death probe

Cameron Britain shared new details Tuesday surrounding its reaction to the death of British businessman Neil Heywood, whose alleged murder figures in a political scandal that has roiled China and raised questions about Britain's initial response.

"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," Foreign Secretary William Hague wrote in a statement released Tuesday.

Hague and Prime Minister David Cameron pressed the same demand for a thorough investigation at a Tuesday meeting in London with Chinese Politburo member Li Changchun, according to news reports.

Heywood was originally believed to have passed away from excessive alcohol consumption in a Chongqing hotel in November. The case was later reopened as a murder case.

Chinese authorities recently named as a suspect Gu Kailai, the wife of Bo Xilai, who was ousted from his position as Communist Party secretary last month and recently stripped of his other party roles. Heywood was a friend of Xilai and his wife, who had reportedly done some work with their family. The shakeup has generated a rare swirl of public political intrigue in China.

In his statement, Hague said British officials in China first learned of rumors among expatriates that Heywood had died under “suspicious circumstances” on Jan. 18. A few weeks later, the former Chongqing police chief made undescribed allegations about the death.

Hague said he was first informed about the case on Feb. 7.

“I immediately instructed them to make urgent representations to the Chinese authorities and to seek an investigation into Mr Heywood’s death,” the foreign secretary wrote in his statement.

The question of how quickly Britain reacted is one of many circling over the case: The Wall Street Journal reported that British consular officials in China were suspicious of the death as early as November, but the case wasn’t pursued “because other U.K. officials believed that asking the Chinese to investigate would be problematic,” according to several people familiar with the matter.

Hague wrote that British officials formally asked Chinese authorities to investigate on Feb. 15, a request that was repeated several times without “a formal Chinese response” until April 10, when Chinese authorities informed the British ambassador to China that an investigation was underway.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Chinese Communist Party official Li Changchun, left, and British Prime Minister David Cameron, left, hold a meeting at Downing Street in London on Tuesday. Credit: Leon Neal / European Pressphoto Agency

 
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