Neil Heywood, former friend of sacked Chinese leader Bo Xilai, and possibly killed by Bo’s wife Gu Kailai, is not the first Briton to lose his life in China, writes author Paul French in The Telegraph. In his book Midnight in Peking he tried to solve at least one, the murder of Pamela Werner in 1937.
Quite simply, if the truth about Pamela’s murder had been revealed it would have throw open too many firmly locked cupboard doors, allowing too many embarrassing skeletons to tumble out. I hoped that my book might bring some sort of belated justice for Pamela by revealing the obfuscations that occurred in 1937 and shedding light on what really happened.
But whether we’ll ever know the true story about Heywood is anyone’s guess right now.
Pamela Werner in 1937, Neil Heywood in 2011 – the fact is Brits dying under strange circumstances in China goes back about as long as we’ve engaged with the country and there’s plenty of mysteries to be solved across 250 years of doing business with the Middle Kingdom.
1784 was not a good year for Anglo-Chinese relations. British merchants were already trading opium in Canton. The Lady Hughes, a British ship, was at anchor near what is now Hong Kong. The ship fired a salute but the gunner in charge of the cannon rather stupidly left a cannonball in the gun, which killed an innocent Chinese man onshore. The gunner was arrested then tried in a Chinese court where he couldn’t understand a word of Chinese and the judge didn’t know any English. He was kept in jail for six weeks and then executed by strangulation. All a bit unfortunate for both the gunner and the dead Chinese man – and sadly neither of their names are recorded for posterity.