In November 2011 the local papers covered the unexpected death of a British expat, Neil Heywood, whose body had been found in a hotel room in Chongqing. The papers said that Mr Heywood, an Old Harrovian aged 41 who had lived in China for several years and had a Chinese wife and two young children, was thought to have died from a heart attack following a heavy drinking session.
Neil Heywood was well known in the British expat community in Beijing. He was a fairly flamboyant character who drove a Jaguar with a Union Jack GB sticker on the bumper and seemed to have a charmed life. His business was to work for high worth， politically connected Chinese individuals and help them with their business schemes in the UK.
In fact his most important client (only client??) was Gu Kailai the wife of an extremely senior politician Bo Xilai.
At the time of Heywood’s death, Bo Xilai was Party Secretary of Chongqing (I should explain that Chongqing is one of China’s largest cities with a population of just over 30 million). Bo Xilai was a very famous and charismatic neo-Maoist politician with a huge popular following. Like the current President, Xi Jinping, he was what is known as ‘Red Nobility’, ie: his family’s commitment to the Chinese Communist Party went back to the earliest days of the nation. Without a doubt he was in a position where he might eventually be considered as Premier or President, and it seemed to many that that was his ambition.
All in all Heywood was working for/aiding some seriously important individuals.
A few weeks after the announcement of Heywood’s death, cremation and burial (without an autopsy) – to everyone’s amazement –Wang Lijun, who was Bo Xilai’s lieutenant and the Chief of Police in Chongqing, fled under cover of darkness to the American Consulate in the city of Chengdu. There he told American officials that Neil Heywood had been murdered, poison had been forcibly administered. Furthermore he said that the local authorities, police, hotel management etc had been ordered to cover up the situation.
Wow, wow and double wow! what a story…was Wang Lijun speaking the truth, or not? What had really happened to Neil Heywood and why?
Two nights ago we went to a talk at the Beijing International Society, which holds regular talks for those who have ‘foreign’ passports. The speaker we went to hear was Carrie Gracie, an old China hand, fluent in Mandarin and the BBC’s China News editor.
Carrie recently created a five part podcast about the murder of Neil Heywood, and as far as I can tell, every expat in Beijing is listening avidly!
Her evening with BIS was a wonderful opportunity, not to hear the story – you can do that by listening to the podcast (and I have carefully avoided any spoilers) – but to tell us why she had felt the urge to go into the story now after almost six years had elapsed; how she had approached the task; what her bosses at the Beeb had felt about her tackling ‘old’ news; how she had managed to get interviews with key players against the odds. It was absolutely fascinating.
We all have a trace of Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple within us, so I urge you to download and listen to Carrie’s podcast series (its gripping) and see what conclusion you come to!