‘I sent him to the airport; he was so excited! It will be his first time living apart from us. I am proud of him and the next time we meet he will be a man!’ – Mr Lee was thinking as he saw his son, Lee Kyung Woon (also known as Michael), off to study in Britain. Little did he know that the next time he would see his son would be in a mortuary.
On 2 October 2000, a few days after Michael’s sudden death, Mr Lee and his grieving family arrived in Britain from Spain with only one thing on their mind, to take Michael home. But, until his post mortem was done, the Lee family would not be able to see their son, let alone take him home. It has now been three years, yet Michael still lies in the Canterbury mortuary.
Michael, of South Korean origin, was born in Spain and a first year student at the University of Kent, when he died under suspicious circumstances only ten days after his arrival in the UK. He was found dead by the roadside on one of the main streets of Canterbury.
The police stated that the cause of death was probably a road traffic accident but crucial facts regarding the accident are lacking because no thorough investigation was carried out. Today, Mr Lee, with the support of the Monitoring Group and Imran Khan as solicitor, is campaigning for a second inquest into the death of his son. In an interview with IRR News, Mr Lee told us of his family’s experience over the past three years in trying to piece together exactly what happened to Michael.
‘The initial seven months were the most difficult,’ he said. The family tried to find out the facts of Michael’s case, independently, but to no avail. ‘We went from one office and hospital to another but found nothing.’ Being brushed aside by those in charge is something Mr Lee still today finds difficult to comprehend, let alone accept. ‘They even disregarded my wife’s plea, a mother’s basic plea!’
Treated with suspicion
The suspicious attitude of the authorities – not allowing them to see their son, taking them to the wrong accident site, moving Michael’s body, and the inability of the authorities to give precise information – made the Lee family decide to probe for answers from every possible source. However, instead of receiving assistance they encountered a series of obstacles and even threats. Four days after their arrival, Michael’s body was moved to the local funeral parlour without the Lee family being informed and they were still not allowed to see him. He was moved again three weeks later, back to the Canterbury hospital mortuary with no reason given and with no notification of the family.
After two weeks of waiting to visit the accident scene, they were finally taken, but to the wrong site. It took five months of asking before the hospital released the medical report. And, during their seven month stay in Canterbury, they were forced to move from one lodging to another for reasons that they do not understand. The family became agitated and angry. What is going on? Why couldn’t they see Michael? What was the cause of death? These questions were left unanswered by the authorities for what is now almost three years.
One of the main concerns is that, after three years, Michael has still not been buried. According to Suresh Grover of the Monitoring Group and Imran Khan, it is because the pathologist accuses Mr Lee of being rude! Whatever the reason, the whole conduct of the case – from the police investigation to the lack of cooperation by the hospital – was wanting. During the first inquest it was stated that the post mortem was conducted on the 2 October 2000, which contradicts what the Lee family were told. What they are also questioning is the fact that, instead of showing photographs of Michael, the inquest was shown sketches of where the facial scars were. But these contradicted what Mr Lee saw when he identified his son.
In their quest, the Lee family had even received threats. On one occasion, Mr Lee was suddenly told that if he did not take Michael from the hospital mortuary, the hospital would arrange burial itself. On another occasion he was told he could view the body only in Spain and not while it was still in the UK.
Mrs Lee was at the end of her tether after seven months of searching for answers. ‘She started pulling out her hair. It pained me to see her,’ recalled Mr Lee. Because she was suffering from post-traumatic stress, because their youngest son has been missing school so long and they had a lack of funds, Mr Lee decided to send his wife and youngest son home while he stayed behind. Jobless, and having moved lodgings about fifteen times, Mr Lee is now being put up by South Korean students in London who are also assisting him in his call for a second inquest. Since his family went back, he has not seen them and has only been able to call them once or twice a month because of his straightened finances.
On 23 July, when this interview took place, Mr Lee had been granted a second post mortem. However due to the decomposition of the body it is highly unlikely that anything conclusive can be found. Today he is campaigning for a second inquest.
As the interview ended, I asked Mr Lee what he would ideally like.
‘To go home with my son!’