Minister comforts teenage son after girlfriend is killed in climbing accident

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The Independent Online

Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, has cancelled her official engagements this week to comfort her teenage son over the death of his former girlfriend in a climbing accident.

Matthew Mills, 17, who is regarded as one of Britain's best young golfers, is said to be "devastated" by the death of 16-year-old Amelia Ward in South Africa. Amelia, whose father is a High Court judge, was on a school safari in KwaZulu/Natal with her twin sister, Kate, when she was struck by a rock during an abseiling exercise on Saturday.

Her body was flown back to Heathrow airport yesterday, where it was collected by her father, Sir Alan Ward – a Lord Justice of Appeal who sat on the case of the conjoined twins "Jodie" and "Mary" – and her sister Kate.

Matthew, who is attending the world's leading golf school in America at an estimated cost of £80,000 over two years, met Amelia through a close friendship between the two families. Ms Jowell, 53, and her son have been with the Ward family, who own homes in central London and near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, to offer their support.

A friend of the minister said yesterday: "The Jowells and the Wards are extremely good friends and have been close for many years. Matthew and Amelia were seeing each other for several months and he is obviously devastated." The teenagers ended their relationship recently but were still very close, the friend added.

Ms Jowell, whose husband, David Mills, has taken out a loan to cover the cost of sending Matthew to the David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Florida, is helping Amelia's mother, Helen, plan the funeral.

Matthew, who started playing golf at the age of three, was sent to America by his parents after they were told he was one of Britain's brightest golfing prospects.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said Ms Jowell had cleared her diary of engagements this week, including a planned speech at the Edinburgh Festival.

It had been expected that Ms Jowell would use the speech to announce the Government's decision on whether the BBC will be allowed two new digital channels.

A post-mortem examination confirmed that Amelia, a pupil at the City of London School for Girls who had been due to receive her GCSE results today, died from a head injury. She was waiting at the bottom of a crag used for abseiling at the Zingela nature reserve when a rock the size of a rugby ball fell 60ft, striking her on the head.