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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?

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82 Contributions (since 27 January 2014)
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Total results 82 (page 3 of 9)


10 February 2014 at 23:58

My sister [***] was murdered in April 2010, whilst holidaying in Goa, India. My family and I were devastated at the loss of our beloved [***], but to confound our situation further we were met with almost complete incompetence by staff at the FCO. To begin with we told staff at the FCO that we had been told on Facebook what had happened to [***], it took agonising days to finally get confirmation from the FCO and this was not delivered in a sensitive face to face conversation. The FCO failed to inform my family or I that if [***]'s body is not repatriated there would be no Inquest, this was a huge failing and a fact we did not find out until nearly a year later. The information the FCO did supply us with was a list of lawyers which included a known corrupt individual. 2 years later we were given a brochure. After 2 years of struggling to get anyone in our own government (and India's) to listen to us we went to the press and within a few weeks we had a visit from a Police liaison officer, a face to face meeting at the FCO and a murder investigation opened up in India. Our face to face meeting was filled with promises, to which nothing has come of. I could list all of my grievances here but as I am sure you can imagine it is hard to write all of this with my little sister [***] gone, we as a family feel helpless in a world in of politics, we just want help in any way at all and not to hear "I'm sorry we can't help we have no jurisdiction" Yours sincerely [***]

Andy and Rhian Sebbage

10 February 2014 at 22:23

We first had contact with FCO July 2011 when we received a phone call from them, informing us that our 18 year old son had been killed in Zante Greece,they could not go into details about the incident over the phone. In the same incident 4 other 18 year olds were stabbed by a local taxi driver. AS the incident happened in the early hours of the morning, there were problems trying to contact FCO and to obtain advice to forward to the injured boys. We arrived in Zante the British consular meet us at the airport, they were helpful, could not do enough to meet our needs at a very difficult time. We had to travel to the mainland to identify our son we were meet by a very efficient official from the FCO, she organised everything from visiting the morgue to settling us into our hotel. Where I feel the service let us down was when we returned to England, we expected the FCO would give us a follow up call with advice on what to do next. We received a booklet on bereavement but who reads it!!!. During the trial the British consular meet with us the evening before but were not able to answer our questions, during the trial they attended the first and last day but have no jurisdiction in the court, during the trial, witnesses and victims had nowhere to wait before being called, but stand around in the corridor outside and be subjected to intimidation buy the Greek family, when asked for support they were unable to as they said they have no rights in the court. When we returned from the trial we received a phone call from FCO asking if they could assist in any way, which we felt was more courteous than any offer help. We have to return to Greece in June. What we would like is for the FCO to make there presence felt within the court, we don't know our rights, would be helpful having someone from the FCO to make their presence know to the courts, to put pressure on the court officials not to have any adjournments as we have travelled from England and all the expenses that we have had to fund as well as time from our family's etc. the original trial took 21 days we were only in court for 7 days!!!, advice on claiming expenses, we still have had no expenses to date, We have had contact with other family's who have gone through what we are going through now they all say the same what is the point in sending someone from the FCo when they have no rights in the court , don't make themselves know to anybody official at the court, We travelled to Greece as a large party of 23 we contacted the FCO in London and asked what support we expect to receive as we were attending a murder trial we had no response, as a family all we want is someone to be with us explain what our rights are within the court and within the country we are in.

S Matthews

10 February 2014 at 22:23

My son was recently murdered whilst on holiday with friends in Greece. I was advised not to travel to Greece but I insisted that I wanted to bring my son home. Initially my contact with the FCO was very proactive and they made regular contact with myself and my family to arrange travel to Greece. However, my main concern is the service provided once we returned home. Due to the nature of my son's death and those involved, I was advised that I needed to appoint a lawyer in Greece. Although the FCO provided me with a list of approved lawyers in Greece, this list was also provided to the suspects involved with my son's murder. My first call to the lawyers on the list was unfortunately to a lawyer representing one of the suspects. This should not have happened. Also no information was provided as to the local police, courts etc. No information provided as to how the legal system works in Greece and why the lawyer was needed. When enquiries were made regarding the possibility of legal aid, it then took 2 months for the FCO to provide information. I have read the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the FCO, the Police and the Corners and each of these organisations have failed to provide me with information in a timely manner. Having read the comments posted on this forum so far, it is worrying to see that the service provided by the FCO is far from adequate and is failing people when they are at their lowest point in life following the death of a loved one.

Nicola Henderson

10 February 2014 at 21:25

Whilst on a weekend trip to Paris in 1997, my father, husband and brother were attacked which resulted in my father's death. We were a family in shock and found ourselves in this very grave situation in a foreign country not knowing what to do. We received very little help or assistance from the consular office and were left to our own devices for most of the 5 days we spent trying to deal with this nightmare. We made our own way to the consular office, took a ticket and sat in a queue eventually talking to somebody through a glass screen trying to explain what had happened. We had to report the incident at a local police station which we had to find on our own. Nobody accompanied us to help with translation or help us through the procedure. Nobody offered to take us to the hospital where my father had been transferred to. This turned out to be a 40 minute metro ride which we did on our own for 4 days. Nobody accompanied us at any point to help with the medical translations even on the day we had to switch off my father's life support machine. We were refused help in trying to re-arrange our return train tickets to the UK as our original tickets had obviously expired. Surely the consular office could have found somebody to help us find our way around Paris, offer to take us to the police station, the hospital etc. At no point were we asked if we needed help with accommodation for the extra days of our stay. It was all left for us to deal with. When you find yourself in this situation, you are traumatised, you are not thinking logically and you really need as much help and guidance as you can get, especially in a foreign country where there is a language barrier too. Upon our return to the UK, the service we received from the Foreign Office deteriorated and it became very stressful having to deal with them. Nobody showed any compassion for the situation we found ourselves in and basically advised us to get a lawyer who would be able to help with the legal issues. All in all a terrible experience and I hope that 16 years later families are not going through what we went through?

Suzanne McDonald

10 February 2014 at 21:16

My 19 year old son and four of his friends went to Malia last year on their first lads holiday. On the last night they were out celebrating his friend's birthday when an argument between boys not in their group broke out and tragically one of my son's friends was stabbed and killed. The boys went willingly to the police station to give statements and help to identify the boys who did this. They ended up being held in cells for three days and have been charged with affray even though they did not fight. The FCO did not in my opinion give the boys proper advice and support, they said they gave the boys a list of lawyers but this was not the case. My son was injured but was not offered medical treatment until the following day. The boys were all traumatised by the murder of their friend but no support was given. When they were released and had to go back to the hotel to pack their dead friend's case, again there was no support or advice. As parents we struggled to get much information and the only advice was not to go out there. We were allowed a meeting with the FCO after the boys returned and the staff members at the meeting were very text book in their empathy towards us. The representative in Malia joined the meeting by conference call but had very little to say and her responses were very much led by the chair of the meeting. I found the whole experience very disappointing and cannot really see what purpose the FCO serve. When a real tragedy occurs they do not appear to know how to deal with it so revert to almost scripted responses, no better than a call centre.

Nicholas Monson

10 February 2014 at 15:50

On May 19th 2012, my son - a British citizen - died in police custody in Kenya. The Kenyan police issued a statement that he had died from an ingestion of drugs. This was untrue. The post mortem revealed days afterwards, he died from blunt force trauma. He separately had wounds consistent with torture. In retrospect the FCO should have made the initiative of contacting me when I flew into Kenya. They could have advised me as the father, for instance, to have my son's body flown back to Britain where there could have been an inquest. As it was, in the distress and confusion, my son was cremated which lost our family advantage in dealing with the Kenyan authorities, so lawyers tell me.

Jeanette rooney

10 February 2014 at 14:54

My mum went missing 25th September 2013. She was found dead in some woods in Rouen France 10th October 2013. I found it easy to make contact on 26th September at 8am by telephone. I was advised to call my local police service who sent a police officer out ASAP and searched my mums house for clues and finger prints. FCO made several calls to me in the 2 weeks my mum was missing although there wasn't much they could do as we were unsure where she went missing. They gave me the details of missing abroad who helped me to set up a Facebook appeal. After a body was found in woods in the spot my mum was found missing everything changed. Police came to me to identify jewellery. This was a horrific experience. I felt very lost after this and didn't know what to do or how to do it. My contact from FCO was very very minimum from this point onwards. I was appointed a family liaison officer from the police service who also were unsure of what to do. I feel let down by the system. Interpol were incompetent and so were FCO. It took 9 weeks for a formal identification of my mothers body. During this time I was made to feel like a nuisance caller when I rang for information. I was told on numerous occasions that they would call me as soon as they knew anything. (Baring in mind I have been shown jewellery that looked like my mums but had no formal identification) this was a very stressful and upsetting time for me. I was shown no compassion. I got to the point where I could no longer speak to diplomats at the FCO and had to email them due to the attitude and complete disrespect I felt from them. I was given specific dates and times that things would happen by and these dates were never ever adhered to or chased up by FCO. I managed to obtain information in hours that FCO had seemingly been trying to get for weeks. I have asked the FCO to help me with various issues I have encountered to be constantly told "I'll ask the question" generally it was taking weeks for answers to my questions and I had to chase them and chase them. On January 9th this year I was still waiting for questions I asked on 16th December. FCO have tried to pass the responsibility of certain aspects to 3rd parties ie the funeral directors to deal with communication about how long my mum can be held in France. In December 2013 I started repatriation of my mum thinking that all investigations had been completed in France. I was hoping to have my mum back on British soil for Christmas. I had been told by FCO for 9 weeks that there would be no further investigations by the French and they were happy with the external examination they had carried out. After visiting the funeral parlour to start repatriation I rang FCO just to confirm that the investigations had been completed. I was told that there were still going to be further investigations, I then had to ask what these investigations were. I was told that the French had removed 'some' of my mums organs. You can only imagine the heart break this caused. I became very very upset and again had to ask what organs had been removed. The reply was that they had been led to believe it was the heart lungs and kidneys. I became even more upset. And told them I wasn't bringing my mum home without her organs. I was put on hold. And when the phone was answered again it was someone completely different on the phone. I had no warning I was being transferred. This is very inconsiderate in my eyes. So right now my mum is still in France awaiting the return of her organs. I have heard nothing from FCO since 3rd feb. They have basically told me to allow my friend to contact the examining magistrate as she speaks French and it's easier. So it looks like I'm on my own. Thankfully I have met an amazing group of people who have knowledge of these situations due to their own heart break. I have been lied to be diplomats at FCO who don't know their backside from their elbow. These people are good at helping out other countries and giving/spending millions every year. Yet British citizens who have lost loved ones abroad can't get any financial help or any other help at all. They spend money for criminals abroad. I was never referred to victim support, SAMM, D. A. Y. N. A or any other organisation that could help me. Even though there is a high risk of foul play that is believed to be involved. I'm disgusted at the way both me and my mum have been treated in this whole awful situation. And things really need to change.

Diane Ashton

10 February 2014 at 14:28

My son, Stephen Ashton, was killed aged 22 at a Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan, Thailand, on New Year’s Eve 2012/13. He was an innocent bystander to a fight which broke out between 2 rival gangs from the island. One of the gang members pulled a hand made gun to shoot at the other gang member but the bullet hit Stephen and he died on the beach. The trial is being heard at Koh Samui court and is still ongoing having been adjourned part-heard on 2 occasions. I set out below my experience with the FCO to assist with the consultation. In the immediate aftermath of Stephen’s death, the majority of contact with the FCO was by telephone communication with relatively short emails giving very little detail. We did not receive a personal visit which would have been greatly welcomed. My experience is that the FCO particularly in London, rely on detailed information being given over the telephone with no follow up in writing. Taking in this detailed information and then remembering this days later is a huge task when you are in complete state of shock. I recall at the time that I was in disbelief and found it quite incredulous that we had received more formal correspondence from the Met Police regarding my daughter’s mobile phone that had been stolen just before Christmas than we had received from any public body about the death of Stephen. I find this totally unacceptable. Further, I strongly believe that where a victim has been seriously injured or killed abroad there should be a Family Liaison Officer automatically appointed within the FCO. In these early days, it needs a personal visit to the family to sit down with them and go through all details from the information known about the incident, repatriation of the body, help with insurance claims, and continuing assistance through the process of the investigation and the trial. This needs to be followed up with official correspondence from the FCO for ease of reference. I am aware from the Missing Abroad website that the FCO launched a Memorandum of Understanding in 2012 - an agreement between them, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Coroners Society which lays down minimum standards and what the bereaved can expect from these authorities. I would suggest that this is revisited and consideration be given as to whether these standards which are described as the ‘minimum’ are in fact met. Certainly from my experience, I do not think so. Examples I can give are that a Family Liaison Officer was not appointed and the police position was one of “as this is a death abroad, this is a case where your contact should now be with the FCO as there’s not much we get involved with now”. A further example is that I was initially advised that there would be no assistance at the trial in Koh Samui. It was only after I emailed the FCO referring to the Memorandum and after correspondence from my local MP that this was changed and Pro Consul attended the first day of the trial and is due to attend the sentencing. Having said that, the advice required is very limited even on a practical level. For example, advice was not given that a passport would be needed to obtain access to the court and clothing to be worn to cover the arms. None of which are required in our court system in England and Wales. All of this causes unnecessary and additional stress. The advice at the outset and whenever concerns are raised has been “get a lawyer”. I was given a list of Thai lawyers and told that the fees would be minimal in Thailand. I progressed with the list to find that the majority of responses were not encouraging in any shape or form. Neither were the fees which ranged between £200 to £300 per hour in addition to travel expenses from Bangkok to Koh Samui which were also quoted at similar rates for approximately 10 trips. I would like to point out that there appears to be a general assumption by the FCO that families have the financial means to fund a lawyer. This is clearly misguided. Why is more not being done to set aside funds for families to access a lawyer in appropriate cases through a legal aid scheme? It is essential to have a translator at court but the FCO do very little to help with this other than to provide one of their general information sheets with a list of names which was very limited. I was able to source a translator who was not even on the list despite the fact that she is very well respected on Koh Samui. When I was eventually in contact with the embassy in Bangkok following my arrival on the island, I was informed that they were actually of this translator. These information sheets need to be updated and more needs to be done by the FCO to assist with sourcing this professional help. I have more to say but insufficient space has been allowed and will therefore send the rest direct.

marjo searle van leeuwen

10 February 2014 at 13:10

We are the parents of Brenda Searle, who disappeared and was found murdered in Mexico in 2000/2001. She had a British passport but lived in the Netherlands. Brenda was a brilliant university graduate in both biochemistry and communications sciences, a very experienced traveler, but most of all a lovely and charismatic young woman. She went on a short holiday to Mexico and suddenly all contact was lost. What followed was a nightmare: eight long months of searching three autonomous states of Mexico, by family and friends from both England and the Netherlands. Because of this, and the following ten years of the murder trial, we have had a lot of experience with consuls, embassies, the FCO. We found the help of the Honorary Consuls excellent; they could not have done more. But that they did all this (assisting with the media, police and detectives, translations, documents, transport) for free and in their own time we only found out much later, and we were really embarrassed. They also confessed that they were out of their depth, as they had never dealt with such a case, and never had training for it either. The professional diplomats must have realized early on how much time and effort this would take. They only acted when we came with a TV crew. The diplomatic pressure then put on the three states to cooperate in the interrogation of the suspects was vital in solving the case and finding Brenda’s body. Looking back there is a huge difference between the expectation of continuous support, and what is there in reality. This is because of the interaction between media and FCO/embassies; it has to be news, and them showing support. But a tsunami or major accident is not a murder case. The frustrations of a long search, and an endless trial, the lack of information caused by incomplete files and diplomats frequently changing positions can be imagined. There is such a lot of harm done by this unprofessional and insensitive approach. And there is really nowhere else you can go for support, as soon as a murder is abroad, the police, victim support, and travel insurance, the FCO, all have a policy to refer to each other. Murder victims have no legal rights as everyone assumes, nor do their families. And so we circle around. It never stops; we are trying to establish for the last four months whether we, as parents, need to take action to have the murderer of our daughter extradited from one Mexican state to the other. The court does not react to this question, the Embassies promised but do not get back to us. We have heard now so many times that “it has their full attention and they are doing all they can”. It is not reassurances we seek, but information, information right from the start and a clear indication who can do what. We have been involved with SAMM Abroad and a Dutch charity in trying to improve victim’s rights for over ten years, and there is still a long way to go. Please see the recent Victim Support Europe Manifesto 2014-2019 as well. As Brenda’s mother I welcome this FAC inquiry. Marjo Searle van Leeuwen

Julie Love

09 February 2014 at 22:28

I passed on to other organisations and families and feel had I not done so many families would not be aware of this committee and the work they are doing. I was unable to make a written submission prior to the deadline of 20th January due to time restraints. I have researched and found very few articles online relating to this inquiry and whilst your committee are tweeting information and various UK embassies are tweeting there appears to be very little information out there for the general public to have access to if they dont follow the embassies or the committee online. I would like to suggest the date for this open forum be extended and that a major media launch be put in place to request the general public to respond (and for many who dont have online access to advise they can respond via their MP), how else can the information you gather reflect the 19,000 people whom the FCO assisted last year and reallistically attain the "Consular excellence three year strategy" with the aim of providing the "best consular service in the world by 2016". None of the NGO's funded by the FCO are tweeting or on any social media platform relaying this information, surely their client group would be best placed to submit evidence. Have they perhaps sent out a mail merge to clients on their database which is not visible on their social media pages?… Issues I feel that have affected most families when a loved one dies abroad are financial and practical implications, lack of guidance, repatriation, legal advice, translation of documents, translation assistance whilst the family are in the country (for court case or police/hospital/undertaker), embalming, post mortems and toxicology reports, organ removal, repatriation of organs and cost, restricted ailines from certain countries, death certificates and consulare death registration documents, I am sure all these subjects are under the radar of the committee, with many more but I just wanted to ensure they are discussed in detail. As far as good practice in other other countries, I am aware that Scandinavian countries advise travellers about a smartphone App that will assist them on their travels and that this is regularly updated and provides detailed information to travellers, this was successfully launched and travel agents actively inform their customers about this and have been known to assist them to download the App. I believe that at least one Scandinavian country assists their citizens with financial costs of repatriation. I am also aware of several families having assistance from other countries via Skype, doctors and funeral directors have spoke to families direct over skype and the families concerned really benefited from that personal service and felt that they were being kept in the loop with a situation abroad. America issue up to 20 copies of the death certificate free of charge when a US citizen dies outwith the US. Uk citizens are charged a (questionable) admin fee of almost £200 for one copy. The US also have a transparent database whereby citizens are easily able to access how many deaths in a specific country within a certain period and the reason for the death, as far as I am aware the uk FCO are currently unable to breakdown or report this information. I also attended a meeting at the House of Commons on 21st January this year and the subject of repatriation loans was broached. Throughout the discussion, minutes thereafter and subsequent telephone conversations with MP's and FCO staff after the meeting, it is still very ambigious and the lack of definitive criteria is confusing and likely to lead to arbitrary decisions. The dialogue has to be clear and consistent. Finally, I have not met one family who feel that they don't want another family to go through what they have, and it is not only about the circumstanes of the death, it is the treatment in the aftermath and how families are made to feel, as if their loved one's death is insignificant, as if their feelings are immaterial, as if their rights are not important, their grief and heartache is exhausting and sometimes debilitating yet they still battle to ensure changes are made and that other families are not left feeling like they do, Many speak of being treated as neurotic or made to feel like a nuisance when all they are trying to do is get answers. I personally welcome this inquiry and hope that finally listening to families collectively will result in a much improved transparent service.

Total results 82 (page 3 of 9)