Tests on body of Syria death doctor

Harwich and Manningtree Standard: British doctor Abbas Khan died in custody in Syria in December 2012 British doctor Abbas Khan died in custody in Syria in December 2012

Experts on the use of chemicals for torture are to conduct tests on the body of a British doctor who died in custody in Syria, a pre-inquest hearing has been told.

The Syrian regime claims Abbas Khan, a 32-year-old orthopaedic surgeon, killed himself but his family is adamant he was murdered.

They attended a hearing today where details of the British authorities' investigation into his death were given, and it was heard that further examination of a sample of Dr Khan's hair is to be carried out.

The family's counsel, Michael Mansfield QC , said this would include tests for "chemical agents".

He told the hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London: "In a scientific context there is a desire by the family to ensure that if this kind of investigation is going to be taken further they would like to seek the further assistance of those experts who might be familiar with the kind of chemicals that are used by states who indulge in torture.

"The request is obviously a desire to find another expert who has experience on the range of substances that might be used, and also to examine other aspects of this beyond the hair, for example the clothing, and whether the clothing is stained in any way by any chemicals that might have been used."

Counsel for the inquest, Samantha Leek QC, gave an update on the Metropolitan Police's investigation, and said officers had taken a number of witness statements including from members of the Syrian British Medical Society and from a medical colleague of Dr Khan's from the Syrian National Co-ordination Body.

She said statements had also been taken from politicians including Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who was accused by Dr Khan's family of thwarting a mission to save the British doctor while he was being held in Syria.

Judge Peter Thornton, the Chief Coroner for England and Wales, said a full jury inquest into Dr Khan's death will take place later this year with a provisional start date of October 13.

It will be held at the Royal Courts of Justice and is expected to last two to three weeks. A previous hearing in February heard that the doctor's family had been told by sources in Syria that he did not kill himself and was murdered.

Dr Khan, a father-of-two from London, was captured in November 2012 in the city of Aleppo after travelling from Turkey to help victims of hospital bombings. The Syrian authorities say his body was found hanging in a jail cell.

Mr Mansfield previously said the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) should "answer some questions".

He said while the FCO was notified of Dr Khan's detention in November 2012, there might be a case for suggesting that while they advised people from going to Syria, that "doesn't absolve" them altogether of responsibility.

That hearing was also told the Syrian authorities had not responded to requests for photographs of the scene where they say Dr Khan killed himself.

He was due to go before a terrorism court on December 16 but it is claimed he was found hanging when officers went to his cell at 9am.

Dr Khan's mother Fatima had been told by Syrian president Bashar Assad's adviser that her son would be released, Mr Mansfield said, and questioned why a man who believed he was going to be set free would take his own life.

Dr Khan left behind wife Hanna and two young children, son Abdullah and daughter Rurayya.

A further pre-inquest hearing is expected to take place at the Royal Courts of Justice on July 8.

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