Lawyer Aamer Anwar abandoned by British High Commission at postmortem of pal Paul McBride QC
Lawyer Aamer Anwar broke down yesterday as he told how he had to fight off Pakistani photo-graphers trying to take pictures of his QC friend Paul McBride’s body.
The photographers were lying in wait as Paul arrived at the Mayo Hospital in Lahore, Pakistan, for a postmortem.
The top lawyer was found dead in his hotel room in the city on Sunday. He was 47.
Aamer said he felt abandoned by the British High Commission, who refused to send a representative to the hospital.
It made a mockery of Foreign Secretary William Hague’s promise to First Minister Alex Salmond that he was doing everything in his power to help.
Aamer, who has stayed on in the country to make arrangements to get Paul’s body home, said: “I wasn’t prepared for that many media there.
“There was only me to try to stop them taking pictures, no one else. The hospital and the police were not prepared for it.
“Paul’s body was covered. But that is not the point. He should never have been subjected to that level of intrusion.”
Paul’s distraught elderly parents are being comforted at home by relatives as they await the return of their son’s body.
Aamer added: “I made a promise to Paul’s parents that I would deal with the arrangements and that I would ensure they were carried out with dignity.
“I think I have kept that promise but I did not expect to be the one who had to confront the media and stop them taking pictures of Paul’s body.
“This would never have happened back home but I don’t blame the Pakistan police or the hospital authorities, because things are done differently here and they could not have predicted the media attention.
“But to have no one, absolutely no representative of the British High Commission here in Pakistan in attendance is an absolute disgrace.
“If they are not here to provide pastoral care and help in this situation then you have to ask the question: ‘Why are they here in the first place?’
“I’ve seen the reports from back home where the line they are putting out is that they are providing consular assistance and that is an absolute joke.
“From the moment Paul died to this moment when I am preparing to take his body to Islamabad and get him home to his family, I have seen no one from the British High Commission.”
Aamer, 44, claimed that when he spoke to the High Commission, an official told him they would not be sending staff the 200 miles from Islamabad to Lahore to help with the post mortem and repatriation because they see their role as more focused on “global issues”.
Aamer said: “To be told that global issues are at the forefront of their role and not the needs of individual British citizens is completely farcical.
“Had they had one or two members of staff here, we could have handled the whole post mortem photo-grapher intrusion in a different way, rather than me having to confront them.”
The post mortem was carried out by Professor Khalid Aziz. Aamer was given verbal confirmation after the post mortem that his friend died from natural causes.
The autopsy established there was no sign of physical violence, physical torture or physical injury found on his body.
However, it found alcohol residues and samples of blood have been sent to a chemical lab to establish if the cause of death was booze-related.
Police also recovered six unknown pills, a packet of diazepam, some mouth spray, an open bottle of wine and an open bottle of mineral water from Paul’s room at the Pearl Continental Hotel.
Punjab police spokeswoman Nabeela Ghazzanfar said the chemical examination report will be completed in a week.
Aamer added: “I am now taking Paul to Islamabad where a priest will conduct the last rites and prayers and then make arrangements to bring Paul home.”
He said he had received support from the Scottish Government and Strathclyde Police, who had been trying to get British High Commission assistance.
Aamer’s pleas sparked direct talks between Salmond and William Hague on the issue.
They spoke for about 10 minutes shortly after 7.30am yesterday and Salmond asked Hague for direct action from the High Commission.
Salmond said: “The Foreign Secretary didn’t feel he could agree to that request and I think that’s disappointing.”
The First Minister’s spokesman said the conversation was constructive and added: “Everyone wants to do what they can to help.”
But a Scottish Government source said: “The Foreign Office are still saying they will not send anyone from the British High Commission to Lahore to help Aamer Anwar, which is disappointing in the circumstances.
“However, they have offered to help in specific ways, with logistical support, when the body reaches Islamabad, and we welcome that.”
Also at Holyrood, justice committee convener Christine Grahame paid tribute to the lawyer before MSPs got down to work yesterday.
She said: “I crossed swords with him in debate a few times but in the green room he was very personable and I got on very well with him.
“On behalf of the committee, I would wish to extend our condolences. He is a great loss to the Scottish legal system.”
Paul and Aamer were in Lahore to work on a case. Aamer was invited to a wedding on Saturday evening and took Paul along.
But Paul said he was unwell and left after 15 minutes. He had earlier complained of illness but had not seen a doctor.
Aamer found his body after getting hotel staff to break down the door when Paul did not come to breakfast.