FO steps up pressure over student's death

Help for family seeking truth about 'suicide' of son in Germany

The Guardian/April 2, 2004
By Hugh Muir

The government yesterday threw its weight behind a grieving British family's attempt to find how a Jewish student died in Germany after attending a conference by a shadowy far-right group.

Lady Symons, a Foreign Office minister, promised the family of Jeremiah Duggan that the government would assist them by assigning a specialist human rights lawyer to them who could help put pressure on the German authorities.

The government says it is unable to apply any direct pressure because it cannot interfere in the legal process of another country. But by deciding to assist in this way officials appear to be sending a clear message of concern about the case, first revealed in the Guardian last year.

Mr Duggan, 22, died after attending a meeting of the Schiller Institute, a rightwing political group that appears, according to the Metropolitan police, to be a "political cult with sinister and dangerous connections".

He travelled to Germany from Paris, where he was studying at the Sorbonne, because he shared the institute's stance against the war with Iraq. He was struck by two vehicles on a road outside Wiesbaden. German police quickly concluded he had committed suicide.

But last year, William Dolman, the north London coroner rejected the notion of suicide. He attacked the Schiller Institute. "What was it that turned a stable young man into a terrified young man?" he asked.

"Maybe we all have cause to be frightened," he said.

Reacting to the government's offer, Mr Duggan's mother, Erica, said: "I am very encouraged. The minister listened and now there appears to be a way forward."

Her solicitor, Jacky Turner, said the government's involvement might be crucial. "This is a big step for us," she said. "The lawyer they appoint will work with us and we hope drive the case forward.

"We need to know how it could be that Jeremiah, who was in good health before he left and had a bright future, was reduced to someone capable of acting so recklessly with regard to his own safety that he ended up dead. We think that he was in such a state of fear that he was running for his life."

Lord Janner of Braunstone, who accompanied the family to the Foreign Office, said the minister did the right thing. "This is a clear indication of government involvement for which the family and I are grateful. The coroner clearly did not accept what the German police said and there does need to be an investigation into this weird organisation. There must be a committed and vigorous investigation."

The need for a new investigation was made clear to the British authorities last summer when a review by Detective Inspector Jayne Cowell of the Metropolitan police exposed vital flaws.

The German police failed to take statements from crucial witnesses and it is understood that the clothing Mr Duggan was wearing at the time of the accident has been destroyed. DI Cowell condemned the German inquiry as "totally inadequate".

Mr Duggan's death has provoked deep concern within Jewish communities.

Yesterday campaigners and the family's MP, Rudi Vis, launched the Justice for Jeremiah campaign at the Commons.

The Schiller Institute has said it played no part in Mr Duggan's death but concerns about the group remain. Among the speakers at the conference attended by Mr Duggan was Lyndon LaRouche, Schiller's leader, who has been condemned by Jewish organisations as an anti-semite and who served five years of a 15-year sentence for fraud and conspiracy in 1984.

The Foreign Office said it had sent the German authorities a transcript of the coroner's remarks.

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