Briton killed by `Russian mafia'

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MARTIN BELL, the independent MP for Tatton, said he would call for an inquiry into the death of a British gas engineer believed by his family to have been murdered in Russia. "You can drive a coach and horses through the discrepancies in this case," Mr Bell said after a coroner recorded an open verdict yesterday.

Dave Edwards, 50, was reportedly knocked down by a police car as he walked across the road with a friend to a nightclub in St Petersburg four years ago. His family, from Knutsford, Cheshire, believe he was murdered, possibly by the Russian mafia, and that his death was covered up. An inquest at Knutsford heard evidence from an accident expert who said official reports "did not add up".

But the coroner, John Hibbert, said: "I have heard it is believed by the family that this situation was one of murder by gangsters. For a verdict that suggests this has been a result of murder I should be using a verdict of unlawful killing. To return a verdict of this kind I would have to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt. I understand the family may believe this happened, but, whatever your assumption, you have to concede that the factual evidence is not there to enable a coroner to return that kind of verdict." But Mr Hibbert said he was not satisfied Mr Edwards's death was accidental.

Afterwards, his widow, Jan, pledged to fight on to uncover the circumstances of his death. "My husband was murdered. I feel sick after the verdict and I will fight for justice in Russia."

A detective commissioned by the family to investigate the death uncovered discrepancies in Russian reports. The police-car driver, Alexis Fomin, said he was in the middle lane of Nevsky Prospect when Mr Edwards and his friend, Michael Christie, walked out in front of him; he had no time to brake. He said the men were masked by another vehicle.

But Douglas Loynes, the accident investigator, told the inquest after analysing reports: "I cannot say it was this vehicle and I can't say it was this location." He said he would have expected the Russian accident investigation to have shown traces of clothing or body tissue on the vehicle but none was reported.

He also said that, because it was a jeep-type vehicle, which would have been higher than those around it, doubts were cast on whether the driver's view would have been obscured. Given a speed of 55kmph and the position of the men in the road, he said the driver would have had eight seconds to react and brake.

Later, a police officer, Andrew Hodgson, said: "There was no reasonable explanation why the driver failed to see them and react until it was too late." Mr Christie, who was seriously injured, told an earlier hearing they were walking along a side street when a car mounted the curb and hit them from behind.

In a statement he said: "We were walking along the pavement of a side street when I heard the sound of a fast- moving vehicle behind us. I turned and looked over my shoulder and the noise was getting closer. I saw headlights of a car coming straight at us."

There were also discrepancies in Russian reports about the time of the accident and the weather.

It is understood that detectives in Russia investigating mafia gangs have reopened the case of Mr Edwards, who was employed on a pipeline project at the time of his death.