Holyrood offers hope to bereaved Borders mum

A BORDERS mum took her battle to discover how her son died in France to the Scottish Parliament last week.

Julie Sheppard of Ettrickbridge said she is “heartened and assured” that all efforts will now be made for a change in the law which will allow fatal accident inquiries (FAIs) into foreign deaths to be conducted in Scotland.

She was commenting this week after she and other families who have been affected by overseas bereavement met MSPs, including cabinet minister Alex Neil, at Holyrood last Wednesday.

The meeting had been organised by Glasgow SNP MSP Bob Doris who, since 2009, has been advocating for a change in the law after being approached by one of his constituents, Julie Love.

Mrs Love, whose son Colin was killed in a drowning accident in Venezuela in January of that year, lodged a petition at the parliament nine months later calling for the extension of current FAI legislation to cover overseas deaths. The procedure would involve all inquest material from the country in which the death occurred being made available to Scottish courts.

And that is what has singularly failed to happen in the case of Mrs Sheppard’s son Andrew, 31, whose body was discovered in a country lane close to where he was staying, 140 miles from Paris, in September, 2010.

The French authorities concluded Andrew’s death was caused by his ill-health although Mrs Sheppard believes the large amount of medication – 18 pills a day - prescribed in France to her son, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, contributed to his demise.

Mrs Sheppard has never, despite numerous requests through personal and diplomatic channels, including the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), seen the evidence presented to a French judicial inquiry, held in private in December last year.

She was invited to last week’s meeting by Mrs Love who wants set up a support group for Scots families facing similar obstacles.

“I learned about Julie [Sheppard] from news stories on the internet and she and six other families, all with harrowing stories to tell, were represented at our meeting,” said Mrs Love.

They heard that it is the intention of the Scottish Government to introduce legislation during this parliamentary term to lift the legal bar on holding FAIs in Scotland.

And Mr Doris commented: “Communication with international authorities to make arrangements in the immediate aftermath of such a tragedy rests with the FCO. A recurring theme from all the families here today was the ineffectiveness of the current FCO services.

“Along with Alex Neil MSP, I will be seeking a ministerial level meeting with the FCO to call for a complete overhaul of the way these families are supported.”

Mrs Sheppard told TheSouthern: “I was so helpful to meet other families facing the same barriers and to hear of their experiences. Julie Love is an inspiration and I am encouraged the Scottish Government is proposing legal changes.”