MacColl's family win first battle in quest for justice

Chief Reporter,Terry Kirby
Friday 12 July 2013 01:42

The disc marks sales of more than 100,000 copies of The Best of Kirsty MacColl, and its success comes nearly five years after her daughter, belatedly recognised as one of the best singer songwriters Britain has produced, died in horrific circumstances while on holiday in Mexico.

The gold disc will be hung close to the silver one awarded to her daughter almost a quarter of a century ago for "They Don't Know", written when she was 19, her first single.

The gold disc comes as the family are celebrating a breakthrough in their long campaign to bring to justice those she believes were culpable in her daughter's death. Ms MacColl, 41, was struck by a speedboat while diving with her sons, Jamie, 15, and Louis, 13, off the island of Cozumel in December 2000.

After two visits by Mrs MacColl and her supporters to Mexico, many meetings with government ministers and officials and strong support from the Foreign Office and the British ambassador to Mexico, authorities there have finally agreed to re-investigate her daughter's death. The inquiry could lead to the prosecution for perjury of a leading Mexican supermarket magnate, Guillermo Gonzalez Nova, who owned the speedboat that killed Ms MacColl.

Her mother, now 82, said: "It has been a very long struggle but we are very pleased that the authorities have finally agreed to re-open the case.''

After "They Don't Know", Ms MacColl, whose father was the folk singer Ewan MacColl, had success with the ironic country rocker "There's A Boy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis". She went on to build up a loyal following during the late 1980s and 1990s, while her duet with the Pogues, "Fairytale of New York", has become a Christmas favourite.

Despite being praised for her strong, clear voice and her often bitter-sweet and witty songs, she never enjoyed the huge commercial success during her lifetime that many in the music business believed she deserved.

At the time of her death, she had a new and well-received album, Tropical Brain- storm, which reflected her growing interest in Latin American music; she had also just completed a radio series on Cuban music. And she was in a new relationship - her first serious one since her marriage to the producer Steve Lillywhite had ended in 1994 - with James Knight, a musician she met when he was teaching saxophone to Louis. The Mexican holiday was a pre-Christmas treat for her sons.

Ms MacColl had just surfaced from a reef dive when she was struck by the propeller of the speedboat, the Percalito, after pushing Jamie to safety. She died instantly.

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Travelling in the Percalito were Mr Gonzalez Nova, several members of his family and an employee, Juan Jose Cem Yam, who subsequently confessed to being behind the wheel, despite having no licence or boating experience. In March 2003, he was sentenced to two years and 10 months for wrongful killing, but avoided sentence by buying his way out of prison at the sum of one peso a day - a total of £61 - plus damages of £1,250.

Believing that Cem Yam had been made a scapegoat for members of the Gonzalaz Nova family who were at the helm, an outraged Mrs MacColl, her family and other supporters and friends, who had launched a Justice for Kirsty campaign, lobbied to have the case reopened.

The campaign obtained evidence that the boat was travelling much faster than had previously been believed and that Cem Yam was not at the wheel; it was also believed that other potential witnesses did not come forward or were reluctant to give evidence against an important family.

But the Mexican federal authorities repeatedly refused to reopen the case, which had been treated as a local, state matter, despite a personal plea from Mrs MacColl last year.

They were also amazed to learn that subpoenas served on Mr Gonzalez Nova and his daughter-in-law could not be served because, said the police, they "could not be found". However, in June, Mrs MacColl and Fred Shortland, a human rights campaigner, made a more successful second visit to Mexico, this time supported by the Foreign Office.

Mr Shortland told The Independent: "After considerable efforts on our part, they have now agreed to a formal reopening of the case as a federal inquiry and the investigation is proceeding."

The campaign withheld the announcement of their breakthrough until this week in order to be sure that the promises they have been given have been acted on.

Whatever the outcome, the campaign is to continue, with a complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the "disgraceful" way they believe Mexico handled the case. They will also make sure that the state authorities deliver on promises to tighten regulations governing speedboats and diving in the area.

Tomorrow Mrs MacColl and other members of the family will join fans from all over the world for an annual get-together in Soho Square, commemorated in one of her best songs, at a bench placed there in her honour; everyone repairs to a nearby pub afterwards to sing.

"We are all so proud of her and so pleased that the record has been awarded a gold disc,'' said Mrs MacColl, "but we still want justice for Kirsty and I won't give up until we get it.''

The campaign can be contacted at

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