Call for new Helen Smith inquiry

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The Independent Online
The father of a nurse killed in mysterious circumstances in Saudi Arabia in 1979 is appealing to the Home Secretary to re-examine her case, so that he can finally release her body for burial.

Ron Smith, whose 23-year-old daughter Helen died following an illegal drinks party in Jeddah 18 years ago last week, is writing to Jack Straw to ask him to keep a promise made by the former leader of the Labour Party Michael Foot. Mr Smith has a recording of Mr Foot in 1983 promising that if a Labour government should come to power, the Home Secretary would "look into every aspect" of the case.

"I'm looking to them to keep their promise," said Mr Smith, a former policeman. "That's what's kept me going all these years. Perhaps something can be done to alleviate this agony."

Helen Smith's body still lies in Leeds General Infirmary mortuary - the longest a corpse has been held without a burial. Mr Smith believes she was murdered and refuses to lay her - and the matter - to rest, until what he terms a "proper" investigation has taken place.

He still carries photographs of her - not just alive, but from the mortuary. In the absence of a grave, it is one of the few ways he can express his feelings. "From day one I have presented a cool, detached stance to the world - perhaps from my police training - because any degree of emotion would have been seized upon by certain authorities and they would have made political capital against me."

Mr Smith battled for years against the official line that Helen's death had been an accident. He and his family were told she had fallen from a balcony with a male friend, Johannes Otten. After a lengthy battle, he won the backing of the Court of Appeal which said an inquest should go ahead.

All this took place against a backdrop of sensitive diplomatic relations between the British and Saudi governments.

The inquest heard a pathologist's evidence that Helen's injuries were consistent with her having been beaten up, and that violent sexual activity had taken place. Her injuries were not consistent with having fallen from a sixth-floor balcony.

The jury returned an open verdict. Mr Smith refused to allow the burial until there was new hope of an inquiry. He is now approaching old age.

What would happen to Helen's body if he died before that takes place? "It's a big question," he said, his voice losing its normal vehemence. "I should think my family would carry on but not with the same intensity. I have poured my life into this ... it's been 18 years of misery."