Mother's anger that Foreign Office denied access to documents on her son's death

MYSTERY DEATH: Andrew Watt's body was found in a French country lane in 2010.

MYSTERY DEATH: Andrew Watt's body was found in a French country lane in 2010.

First published in News
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The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Regional Chief Reporter

A BEREAVED mother has spoken of her anger that the Foreign Office prevented her from seeing official documents on her son's death when they contained no new information.

After a two-year legal battle, Julie Sheppard has finally been allowed to read two letters sent by French officials in 2011 about the mysterious death of her son Andrew Watt.

However, she was furious to discover they revealed no new information on her son's death.

Mrs Sheppard said she did not understand why the documents were not released to her family in 2012 when other information was revealed following a freedom of information request.

"We feel as if we have been lead a merry dance by people who are supposed to help us.

"The letters contained nothing new at all - we feel stitched up to be honest and think they are still covering something up.

"How they can treat a bereaved family in this way I just don't know - I think it's disgraceful."

Senior civil servants initially refused to allow Mrs Sheppard and her family to view the documents claiming their disclosure could damage Anglo-French relations.

But she was allowed to inspect copies of the letters in Whitehall last week after agreeing not to take the Foreign Office to a tribunal.

Both letters were written in 2011 by the French prosecutor in charge of Mr Watt's case.

One was sent to the British ambassador and the second to the British consulate, both in Paris.

In response to the criticism, a Foreign Office spokesman said: "We have complied with the decision of the Information Commissioner’s Office and provided the family of Mr Watt with access to all requested documents."

Mr Watt, 31, from Durham City, was found dead about a mile from Vimarce, near Laval, in north-west France, in September 2010.

French doctors concluded that the former Durham Johnston School pupil died of heart failure.

However, his family questioned the judgement, claiming the French investigation into the death was flawed, and have launched a tireless campaign to discover the background to the death.

Mr Watt, who lived in France with his girlfriend, suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

At the time of his death, he was receiving treatment in a French hospital.

A post-mortem examination was conducted in France. However a second post-mortem in County Durham was delayed after it was discovered that Mr Watt's body had been returned to the UK without many of his major organs.

Some organs have now been returned, but it is not possible to determine if they are Mr Watt's.

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