Son of human rights lawyer 'murdered by Serbian agents'

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Investigators have uncovered evidence that the son of a British human rights lawyer was murdered in Belgrade in a suspected revenge attack by Serbian state security.

Investigators have uncovered evidence that the son of a British human rights lawyer was murdered in Belgrade in a suspected revenge attack by Serbian state security.

Petar Sutovic, 24, was found dead at his mother's flat in the Serbian capital in January last year, apparently from a drugs overdose. His mother became suspicious after learning details of the death and hired a team of private detectives and forensic specialists to investigate the case. They found signs that he had been brutally killed.

Susan Sutovic, a London-based international lawyer, now believes her son was murdered as a reprisal for representing opponents of the Serbian government of former president Slobodan Milosevic.

One of four experts she hired, a highly experienced former police officer, visited the Belgrade flat and concluded that the student was murdered.

All the specialists she employed contradict the official Serbian report and believe her son was probably hit across the face, breaking his nose, stabbed in the back and laid on a bed where official photographs where taken. His blood-stained clothing was changed and his room was staged to make it look like a drugs overdose, the independent specialists suggest.

Her case has won the backing of Amnesty International, the human rights organisation. A spokesman said: "Amnesty International believes that ... Petar Sutovic may have been murdered and that the Serbian police and forensic experts have attempted to cover this up by claiming that his death was caused by a self-administered drug overdose. This apparent cover-up gives rise to the concern that there was possible official complicity in his murder."

There are several disturbing aspects to the case. The Serbian police report said Mr Sutovic was found dead on a bed with a needle in his arm and that "the death was most probably caused by an overdose of narcotics".

His body was returned to London and a second post-mortem examination noted that the victim's heart was missing, "no injuries were seen" and that "death was associated with a potentially fatal blood level of morphine". But photographs of the dead man's body revealed severe facial injuries and large bloodstains on his clothing.

In December last year, Terence Merston, a police officer with 22 years' experience, including work as a murder crime scene specialist, examined the alleged site of the death in Belgrade. The flat was largely untouched, with bloodstains belonging to Mr Sutovic on the wall. Mr Merston concluded: "It is my opinion that Petra was alive and unconscious at the time the photographs were taken and that in all probability he was in fact murdered."

A separate report by Allan John Bayle, an internationally renowned forensic scientist, who has worked for the Metropolitan Police, concluded: "The scene appeared to have been crudely interfered with ... The state and position of the body lead me to believe that the body had been dressed.

"The amount of blood on some of the garments suggested that the victim had been stabbed. There was also blood splatter on the wall, this did suggest the victim was hit."

A third report compiled by Manolis Gavalas, a former consultant in accident and emergency medicine at University College Hospital, stated: "It is striking in this case that facts do not add up at all. I fail to comprehend how these physical injuries were suffered by the deceased if one is to believe the theory that he died due to an acute overdose. There is unequivocal evidence of a significant facial trauma involving the nasal bridge and nasal skeleton, which is clearly deformed. There is also some contusion and bruising over the left sided of the face."

Dr Allan Jamieson, director of the Forensic Institute in the UK, said: "There is clear evidence blood from the face has been wiped following, probably, bleeding from the nose on to the pillow and sheet. I consider that the evidence supporting drug overdose as the case of death is insubstantial and in some instances questionable."

But despite this apparently strong evidence of foul play, Dr William Dolman, the north London coroner, recorded an open verdict last year and concluded that Mr Sutovic had died from a morphine overdose.

Earlier this month a judge granted Mrs Sutovic a judicial review at which her lawyers will try to have the inquest quashed at the High Court and a new one held. Dr Dolman declined to comment yesterday. Mrs Sutovic, who has met Foreign Office officials to discuss the case, believes her enemies in Serbia are responsible for the death. She is well known in Serbia as a human rights lawyer. In the past decade she has represented refugees from the war in former Yugoslavia.