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Consular services - Individuals who encounter difficulties abroad web forum

Foreign Affairs Committee

The forum is now closed. Thank you to all those who have posted comments and contributed to the Committee's inquiry into FCO consular services. The Committee will draw upon the information submitted via the web forum as it continues its work. Over the next few months, the Committee will hold further evidence sessions and will conclude by producing a report with conclusions and recommendations for the FCO. Information about the inquiry will be posted regularly on the Committee's inquiry page.

The Committee would like to hear about the FCO's consular support for UK nationals and their families who have found themselves in situations of particular difficulty or distress abroad.

This could include people who have become ill or involved in an accident abroad, people whose belongings and travel documents have been lost or stolen, families of UK nationals who die abroad, UK nationals in foreign criminal systems (as victims, suspects, or prisoners) and their families, and UK nationals involved in international hostage taking and child abduction.

  • Based on your experience, how easy was it to get in touch with UK consular services when you encountered a problem?
  • Did you make contact via a call centre, online, or at an Embassy or consulate?
  • Did FCO staff provide accurate advice and guidance?
  • If required, did the FCO provide a consular officer to visit you?
  • Do you feel that the FCO handled your case quickly and sensitively?
  • Were you satisfied with the consular service that was provided?
  • Do you have any suggestions to improve the service or examples of good practice from elsewhere?

Return to the FCO Consular Services web forum homepage

82 Contributions (since 27 January 2014)
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Total results 82 (page 2 of 9)

David Reece

12 February 2014 at 11:41

In 1998/99 I was in regular contact with the embassy in Manila about a family problem. Making contact was easy (by FAX and personal visit) although the environment made confidential discussion difficult. Their only advice was to work through the local legal system, although when I queried this they agreed that doing so would not actually be effective. I asked for a recommendation for a lawyer and was given the name of the same poorly-regarded and over-priced firm suggested by my solicitor in London: my local knowledge meant that it was easy to find a more suitable lawyer. I asked for a recommendation for a private detective, and was told to look in Yellow Pages! In sum, making contact was easy but the advice was inaccurate and poorly informed. Internal procedures were farcical: when matters reached crisis point the consul suggested that I make an immediate phone call to a lawyer in Hong Kong, instructed his staff to arrange the call from an office 'phone there, and left for a meeting. None of the staff there were able to make an international call, even in a crisis situation. It was only when the consul returned after two hours that he himself was able to make this call and so resolve my problem.

David Reece

12 February 2014 at 11:27

In 2010 I was in Benin and needed a good lawyer. I visited the web site for the British High Commission in Lagos (which also serves Benin) but it was very clear that all their information related only to Nigeria. As instructed there, I emailed the Honorary Consul in Benin asking for help. I did not receive any kind of response.

jean mcculloch

11 February 2014 at 19:38

My son Alan died abroad in Cambodia January 2013 I got a phone call from a complete stranger 3.15am to inform me my son was dead that he drowned F.C.O did not phone us it was my daughter who phoned the Cambodian Embassy to find out if this was true after asking my daughter some Qs they confirmed my son had drowned. We went over to Cambodia no one met us at the airport or contacted us at our hotel to see if we needed any assistance, it was the undertaker who got all the paper work and translations done for us when the undertaker Han brought my sons belongings back to us I aske were the rest of his gear was and that I had wired 800.00 dollars to him on the Monday (my son died Wed)he went back to the F.CO and their reply was if I wanted to I should go to the Police and ask them were it was What I am a grieving mother but not stupid what happened to looking after our own people disgraceful . My son did not drown we went to the beach location and my daughter asked about and found out what had happened to my son he banged his head on a beam on his way home and collapsed on the beach nobody took the time to look at my sons head if the did the would have seen the cut and bruises we had our sons funeral in Cambodia with no help what so ever from F.C.O disgusted

Committee staff

11 February 2014 at 18:43

Thank you to all those who have submitted comments already on this forum. In light of the interest that this has received so far, the Committee has decided to extend the forum for a further week. We very much appreciate you sharing your experiences, in what have been sometimes painful or difficult circumstances. The Committee will consider the comments carefully as it goes forward in its inquiry, and we will keep you updated with progress.


11 February 2014 at 14:21

Delay in conveying information to UK authorities • The UK Coroner required the Cuban post mortem and police reports as a matter of urgency to allow him to decide if their findings were consistent with his. We called the FCO in the UK and emailed the consular desk in Havana on countless occasions over a period of six weeks to chase up these reports as we feared the results of the UK PM may contradict the findings of the Cubans. • According to the FCO the Cuban PM arrived at the desk of the FCO’s Coroner Liaison Officer on July 30th, yet it was marked as dispatched on May 28th. No one was able to explain the whereabouts of the report in the intervening period. The initial report was available as an electronic copy so could have been emailed on May 28th expediting the entire process. • The Cuban Police Report was dated 12 June, and was faxed to the Coroner’s Office on July 3rd. Our contact at the FCO couldn’t tell us when it had been received from the Cuban’s, as he “hadn’t seen a copy”. • During these six weeks we were left to wonder what the real causes of [***]’s death may have been, and what happened in final moments or [***]’s life. It was a painful enough thing to contemplate without the additional stress of having to chase up the paperwork ourselves. We felt as if there was no one in the UK overseeing our case, or keeping in touch with us. Inaccurate information surrounding trial • In November 2012 we were still in the dark about the process of the trial. We wanted to know when it would be, did we need to appoint a lawyer, what was he pleading, would it make a difference to his sentence if we attended? • Around November 27th the charity Missing Abroad with whom we had been liaising, informed us that there would be an open hearing in the form of a trial on December 5th lasting 2 days. We contacted the FCO to seek clarification and an answer to our questions. • The FCO forwarded our email to Missing Abroad who didn’t know the details. • In panic we decided that we should seek legal advice from a Cuban lawyer. Missing Abroad and the FCO had forwarded a list of English speaking criminal lawyers in Havana who we could contact. Upon calling them, none spoke English and none were criminal lawyers. We found more numbers on Google and called until finally someone picked up who spoke English – He explained that as the family we should have been in direct contact with the Fiscalia General (Directorate of the Protection of Citizen’s Rights) since the trial proceedings began to be kept informed of the answer to all of our above questions. • We contacted the FCO to inform them of this fact. They called the Fiscalia General but were told them to make any enquiries in person. • Two members of the team in Havana then travelled to the FG but were told: “Information on behalf of foreign nationals or families etc and approaches for information can only be made with the consent of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX). (In our experience requests addressed to MINREX normally take weeks for a response)” • It is totally unacceptable that it took the Embassy and/or the FCO 8 months, until the day before the inevitable trial, to find out that it would be necessary to make such a request. Indiscretion resulting in press involvement • The FCO had promised us that should they receive any press enquires they would not make a comment. • The press had picked up some vague information about [***]’s death from an unknown source. • They called the FCO to confirm if they were aware of the death of British National called [***], and the FCO confirmed this. We were inundated with press enquiries. In conclusion: 1. The support we received from the consul whilst we were in Cuba was very good – she was effective and helpful. The opposite was true of our treatment in the UK. 2. We were constantly kept in the dark. It often became apparent that emails and conversations had happened, or information received, but we were always the last to be informed. 3. A complete lack of any sense of urgency or priority given to our case. No one visited us, or invited us for a meeting, or explained what was happening. We sourced our own Family Liaison Office through a friend in the police. And when we expressed dissatisfaction at the way things were being handled it was taken as an instruction that we didn’t want any further direct correspondence. Which was baffling.


11 February 2014 at 14:20

Short Summary We are the family of [***], a talented teacher, loyal friend, beloved daughter and sister. [***] was murdered in March 2012 in Havana, Cuba. In the aftermath that followed, the FCO were at best wholly incompetent. • They provided untimely and inaccurate advice a direct consequence of which was our family being unable to appoint a lawyer or attend the trial. • They sat on reports from the Cuban authorities, a direct consequence of which was delay of vital information for the UK Coroner’s Office. • They were indiscreet, a direct consequence of which was press attention. We had an expectation that in such a time of crisis there would be an infrastructure of solid support, with efficient robust consular assistance. This was not the case. The FCO added significantly to the trauma and confusion following [***]’s death. By contrast, the consular assistance we received in Cuba and the Cuban authorities were extremely helpful, transparent and sensitive. Introduction to person submitting evidence By profession [***]’s mother is a criminal prosecutor. The purpose of our statement is not to apportion blame and be vindictive but to highlight the unacceptable and unprofessional manner in which the FCO behaved. Initial dealings with FCO Saturday March 17, 2012 • A young policeman notified us of [***]’s death. He explained that [***] had been found dead in Havana, Cuba. That was the extent of his knowledge. We were told to call the FCO’s Global Response Center. When we called initially they had no information on the date, location or cause of [***]’s death, but over the course of the evening we corresponded by email and they confirmed the name of the hostel. They explained that we would receive a call from the Cuban Consular desk in London on Monday morning with details of [***]’s death. A 48-hour wait for information because the desk only operates Mon-Fri. • We were then emailed a document containing information on post mortems in Cuba, and a statement that if we required legal assistance the FCO in Havana would supply a list of local lawyers. • In the absence of any further help, we made our own enquiries through a Spanish-speaking friend who contacted the hostel and the immigration services on our behalf. We obtained a lot of information and were anxious to pass this information on to the Cuban authorities. Monday, March 19th, 2012 • We spoke with the Cuba Desk in London who expressed condolences but had no information for us. • We asked if we could get any help from Victim Support, and were advised that this would only be forthcoming once the case was confirmed as a homicide. At this point we were still living in hope that [***]had died of natural causes and hadn’t been given any information from the FCO to confirm otherwise. • Due to the lack of information forthcoming we made the decision to travel to Havana ourselves.

Stephanie Townsend

11 February 2014 at 14:18

My exceptional and much loved brother, Kaye Townsend, was brutally murdered in Lusaka, Zambia on 27 January 2006. We were informed by telephone on 29 January 2006 by a friend of his there. No communication from the FCO, another brother contacted them! We were devastated by our loss and didn't know what to do next. I managed to get a flight and travelled to Zambia for his funeral and arrived one hour beforehand. It was promised by the FCO that someone would meet me at the airport to rush me through customs and immigration but there was no-one there. Fortunately friends of my late brother were there to meet me. Can you imagine how I felt on my own in a strange country, bereaved, distressed, frightened and where I knew no-one. This is just the beginning of a long list of "no assistance from the FCO". How do they justify their jobs? Its ironic my brother went to teach in Zambia when the Agencies for the Colonies were requesting for teachers after independence but when we as a family needed help; nothing. I too like many other bereaved families was not informed by the FCO that an inquest could be held in UK if his body was repatriated. By far my biggest heartache and complaint is that I was not informed by the FCO in London that the murder charge against the accused was reduced to manslaughter after 5 years in court. He had been found guilty and sentenced and by the time I found out it was too late to lodge an appeal. I know this information was sent to the FCO in London by the Embassy in Lusaka. I was told not to deal with the embassy direct but I wish I had. On another visit I was threatened by the murderer's lawyer and was told the same as many other victims that "we cannot interfere with the judicial system in another country" report it to the police. FCO staff need better training; it would be a good idea to employ a bereaved family member; we are the only ones that really know how it feels and what assistance and advice is required. I was looking for help online and came across SAMM Abroad who were far more help than the FCO and can honestly say I don't know how I would have survived without their continued support.

Alison Hill

11 February 2014 at 13:39

Our daughter Laura died in Argentina on 1st October 2007.She died in very suspicious circumstances and the coroner has been unable to hold an inquest due to lack of help and information. We were strongly advised by the FCO not to travel to Argentina as she had died of natural causes and she had received no injuries. If we had ignored their advice we would have seen Laura, and seen all of the injuries she has sustained. When hearing the most horrific news, we were vulnerable and put all of our faith in our government believing they would do everything possible for a British citizen losing her life abroad. How wrong we were. Laura returned back to the UK without any of her organs even though we had been assured this would NOT happen. There are too many inconsistencies to mention but it seems there are so many people in the same position as we are even though we feel so isolated and alone. All that is needed is good honest advice and for the government to feel protective and have respect for the BRITISH victims and their families instead of worrying about (section 27)international relations. Clearly the British people dying abroad and their families do not deserve any more help than they are already receiving which is almost zero, and most of the time totally incorrect information. Therefore we are still fighting for answers and justice for Laura, it seems that this is the case for so many families.


11 February 2014 at 13:25

I was really disappointed with the consular support I received when my partner of over 8 years was killed in a plane crash in Nepal on 28th September 2012.I experienced several errors of communication/incompetence that adding to my distress in the most traumatic of circumstance anyone can ever find themselves in. Examples are as follows: (1) In the first instance I heard about the accident on the radio. I rang up the FCO and gave [***]’s contact details, DOB and passport details. I was told that they did not yet know the names of the passengers on the flight but that they would call me as soon as they had any information. I never received a follow up call confirming [***] was indeed one of the passengers. Neither did [***]’s parents. We both found out [***] was a victim via journalists campaigning at our doors. (2) I actually went out to Nepal to visit the crash site – an event I think must be quite rare in these situations. The Ambassador did not meet me (despite having said on TV that they would do everything to help). One of his juniors did. They arrived in shorts and T-shirts. They hadn’t even been to visit the crash sight. When I asked why not they explained that it was because of “staff cuts”. (3) He had made no effort to make any research to answer my questions and was very flippant in his responses when he was dealing with a bereaved widow. (4) We have had no property returned from the crash despite the fact that we have seen photos of the plane with bags of luggage undamaged outside. We have repeatedly been told by Sita Air that all the property was destroyed even though we know that is not the case. The FCO has done nothing to help us. This may just seem like property to them but to us it is personal items that are all we have left from our loved ones. We were not allowed to see their bodies and so this is the only connection we have. I also saw several credit cards and personal photos at the crash site (I was there 6 weeks after the accident) that still had not be cleared up. In fact several victims suffered from fraud on their accounts. (5) [***]’s bag which had been locked in the hotel was returned to me with writing all over it. This was a bag that had travelled round the world with us that I wanted to keep. The FCO would not help me find who was accountable In summary I found them completely without empathy at a time in my life when I really needed them. As a British citizen I had faith that the FCO was one of the strongest in the world and it used to resonate a sense of pride with me. In reality I was completely let down and made to feel I was a complete inconvenience to them.

Karen Love

11 February 2014 at 09:07

Like to complain , FCO & British embassys are hopeless when we lose loved ones abroad :( as we did tragically jan 29th 2009 :( , neohew Colin was taken from us in "a drowning accident Venezula whislt on holiday of a lifetime :( it was his friend board Cruise liner that informed my sister of Colin,s death , heartache that followed was nothing short of criminal even Local Police in glasgow did not liase with my sister or any if family to help bring our Colin,s body back to Scotland & 5 year down line we still seek answers from FCO & Bristish Goverment as to why Scotland & rest UK , pay & repartriate most Foreigners whom die here back home to own counrty so do We Not at least deserve this as our rughts also ? & poor familys Uk whom need more than consular assistAnce

Total results 82 (page 2 of 9)