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Calls for consular support for family tragedies abroad to be enshrined in law

UK citizens who lose a loved one overseas in difficult circumstances can face a lack of support from the Foreign Office, ministers have been told.

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Chiang Mai, Thailand (PA Archive)

Chiang Mai, Thailand (PA Archive)

Chiang Mai, Thailand (PA Archive)

UK citizens “devastated” by the murder, suspicious death, incarceration or loss of a family member abroad can “face a lack of support from the Foreign Office”, ministers have been told.

SNP MP Hannah Bardell (Livingston) called for improvements in consular services provided by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in such cases and said a right to consular assistance should be enshrined in law.

Ms Bardell gave examples of people who suffered family tragedies abroad, and then struggled with forms and legal processes in another language, high costs of up to £60,000 for those without travel insurance if a family member is killed overseas, and difficulties reaching appropriate Government support throughout.

She said: “I have constituents who’ve been left devastated by the murder, suspicious death, incarceration or loss of a family member abroad. In their time of most desperate need, they face a lack of support from the Foreign Office.”

The MP added that a number of charities do “incredible work” and are “plugging the gaps”, but said they should not be left “picking up the pieces of a Government’s failings”.

There is an immediate and natural assumption that you will turn to the Foreign Office. They'll know what to doDavid Doogan, SNP MP

Other MPs also shared stories of constituents whose relatives had died abroad in unclear or strange circumstances, and the problems they had faced  getting Government help.

Conservative MP Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) told the Commons about Dr Ding Col Dau Ding, an “extraordinary man”, who died in South Sudan in 2015 in “unclear” circumstances.

He asked Foreign Office minister Amanda Milling for “unequivocal” assurance that Dr Ding’s case would be addressed with “renewed vigour” after investigation efforts had “plateaued”.

Mr Baker said: “I am sure I speak for everybody here that to lose a son, a brother, or a loved one, is one thing, but to do so in the absence of understanding and justice is a burden that no family should bear.”

SNP MP David Doogan told MPs about David Cornock, an engineer with family in his Angus constituency, whose death in Thailand in 2019 was followed by an “extremely unconvincing” report from Thai police.

Mr Doogan said: “There is an immediate and natural assumption that you will turn to the Foreign Office. They’ll know what to do. They have been here before. How could I understand how to navigate this myself? Who would? Who could?”

He added: “At every turn the door was politely, very, very politely closed.”

Ms Milling said consular staff at home and abroad work “extremely hard to support British nationals in distress, often in difficult circumstances”.

She added: “We take every single consular case seriously. Our trained and expert staff work with empathy and aim to offer the help that is needed, be that advice or practical support.

“They are not lawyers, they are not medics, police detectives or social workers. But what they try to do is ensure that British people have the information and support they need to help them deal with the situation they face.”

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