SARKOZY ‘TOUCHED’ BY FAMILY’S PLIGHT

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FRENCH president Nicolas Sarkozy has taken a personal interest in the case of an Ettrick Valley man, found dead in a lane in France nearly a year ago.

Earlier this year, The Wee Paper reported plans by Andrew Watt’s family to stage a charity walk along Hadrian’s Wall to raise funds for the Penumbra youth project in Galashiels - an event that raised almost £2,400 to help young people deal with mental health issues.

Andrew, 31, who suffered from a degree of paranoid schizophrenia, was found dead last September in a lane near the village of Vimarce, near Laval in the Pays de la Loire region, where he was living with his French girlfriend.

Bad enough for his family, but the following 12 months have seen Andrew’s parents, brothers and sisters suffer even more heartache as they struggled to get answers from the French authorities.

Andrew’s body was eventually released by the French authorities in December, but it was discovered his brain and heart were missing.

These were only returned to the family five weeks after the burial. A British pathologist later found that one of Andrew’s lungs, part of his liver, throat, tongue and scalp were also not returned to the UK with his body.

Yet, nearly a year on and the family are still waiting for an explanation or apology, despite complaining to the French authorities, involving local MP Michael Moore and contacting the British Embassy in Paris.

Advised to take matters to the top, Andrew’s mum, Julie Sheppard, wrote to Mr Sarkozy, not really expecting a reply.

“But I got a letter back from his office just recently, saying that President Sarkozy had been very touched by what I had written,” Julie told us this week.

“It says the president has instructed a member of his cabinet office to pass all the details on to his justice minister to investigate.

“And I got a second letter from Presdient Sarkozy’s office just the other day about this – so we are hopeful that at last, we might be on the verge of getting some answers.”

Andrew’s family are now looking at setting up a trust to help raise funds to let them continue the fight for the truth behind his death, as well as campaigning to make the public aware of the different way mental health problems and deaths abroad are treated in other European countries, and to raise the profile of mental health issues such as paranoid schizophrenia.

Andrew’s family also had an emotional meeting with the family of Christopher Rochester recently at the studios of ITV Border, where they met for a programme looking at the similarities between the deaths.

Christopher, 24, from Chester-le-Street in County Durham, died in 2000 after falling from a balcony on the Greek island of Rhodes and his body was returned to the UK missing a kidney.

“I was quite apprehensive and nervous about the meeting, but it was good to talk and I think it proved quite beneficial to both sides, as we knew what each other’s family had been going through,” said Julie.

“France and Greece are both members of the European Union, but they both just seem to be flouting the laws when it comes to deaths abroad and the withholding of organs.”