THE daughter of a British woman who died while on holiday in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) has accused Greek Cypriot undertakers responsible for flying her mother’s body back to the UK of “mistreatment” and “vile behaviour”.
Liverpool-born Lynda Ann Dawson, who died aged 62, had been in North Cyprus with daughter Hayley Hannan and other family members for a holiday to celebrate the end of her cancer treatment in the UK.
They had been staying at the home of Mrs Hannan’s father-in-law in the picturesque Sunset Valley site in Bahçeli, on the northern coast.
The celebration turned to tragedy, however, when Ms Dawson fell ill and died on the way to Girne (Kyrenia) State Hospital.
Her body was transferred to Lefkoşa State Hospital where “respiratory failure” was recorded as the cause of death.
Following formalities to record the death with the TRNC authorities, Ms Dawson’s body was then taken to South Cyprus from a morgue at Lefkoşa State Hospital on the advice of British travel insurance provider InsureandGo.
The transfer was carried out by staff from South Cyprus-based Othello Health Services, who subjected Mrs Hannan to “horrendous propaganda” when they came to collect her mother’s body.
The company rejected paperwork issued by the TRNC – a state the Greek Cypriot side refuses to recognise – as “worthless”, issuing their own certificates instead and recording a different date and place of death.
They carried out a “full post-mortem” against the family’s wishes, holding Ms Dawson’s body for 10 days, leaving her daughter “alone in a foreign land” and with “no-one to turn to”.
An employee of Othello allegedly told Mrs Hannan, a nursery proprietor from Northampton, that the repatriation could only take place via South Cyprus because “we are part of the EU”. He warned Mrs Hannan, 36, not to transport her mother’s body via Turkey because “the Turks will mistreat her [mother’s body]”.
Othello Health Services, who describe themselves as specialists in “worldwide repatriation” and who provide island-wide services for UK Ministry of Defence military and civilian personnel and for the United Nations, as well as acting on behalf of UK insurance companies, did not respond to a request for comment from T-VINE.
The claims were made in an online petition launched recently on change.org by Mrs Hannan, who was left distraught by the way the repatriation process was handled in April this year and the length of time taken by InsureandGo to respond to her complaints.
She is calling for the introduction of a “Lynda’s Law” that would require “English insurance companies” to “recognise North Cyprus”.
Hayley Hannan accuses Greek Cypriot firm Othello Health Services of “mistreatment” & “vile behaviour” when she tried to repatriate her deceased mum Lynda Dawson from North Cyprus back to Britain. She was forced to use the firm by InsureandGo because they do not work with Turkish Cypriot undertakers
“Following [my mother’s] death in North Cyprus [on] 15 April , I obtained a North Cyprus court document stating no post-mortem was required, an embalming certificate and a fit-to-fly document,” Mrs Hannan wrote. “They [the Turkish Cypriots] even offered to repatriate her via Turkey within five days.”
However InsureandGo, from whom Ms Dawson purchased travel insurance for her trip to North Cyprus, gave instructions for the deceased to be moved to South Cyprus where an autopsy was performed against Mrs Hannan’s wishes “and that of official court documents issued in North Cyprus”.
“They [Othello Health Services] held her body from [18 to 28 April] with little or no contact and left me alone in a foreign land, scared with no-one to turn to,” Mrs Hannan continued.
“To date I have two death certificates and two embalming certificates. One [set] in Turkish with the correct [15 April] date of death and one in Greek with [18 April as the date of death]!”
Mrs Hannan added: “The propaganda that was used upon me was horrendous. The Greek [Cypriot] rep [from Othello] said [my mother’s body] ‘has to fly through South Cyprus as we are part of the EU, we will deal with her correctly, the Turks will mistreat her, and her body will be refused at Manchester airport’.
“He also said before collecting my mother’s body: ‘Tell these people [at the morgue in Lefkoşa State Hospital] that you wish for your mother to be buried over in South Cyprus [otherwise] they won’t release her [body].’
“This was all lies and propaganda at its best as the Turkish Cypriots didn’t even ask. They were courteous, considerate, kind and respected all of my wishes.
“This situation cannot happen to another European family. I want my mother to finally rest in peace and I want the law changing, I think Lynda’s Law is the answer. All insurance companies should recognise North Cyprus regardless of their political state and they should all have a Turkish Cypriot rep ready to deal with these situations.
“To date I have two death certificates and two embalming certificates”
“I must also state that the [British government] made no contact with me, leaving me to be subject to this vile behaviour.
“The insurance company [InsureandGo] found the cheapest hellhole [hotel] and left me there with no contact.”
Mrs Hannan said that a “very compassionate” company based in North Cyprus, which has not been named but which was recommended by Lefkoşa State Hospital staff, had offered to repatriate Ms Dawson’s body via Turkey.
The offer was rejected, however, by InsureandGo, leaving Mrs Hannan with the choice of enduring additional distress and delays by taking her deceased mother back to Britain via South Cyprus – but with the costs and arrangements covered by the travel insurance policy – or the option of using the repatriation service provider in the TRNC, but having to foot a large bill herself.
“InsureandGo employed a Greek [Cypriot] company called Othello to deal with the repatriation,” Mrs Hannan told T-VINE.
“They came to [Lefkoşa State Hospital]. I had to identify [my mother] then he [the Othello representative] took her in a van over to the South side.
“Before he took her, I gave him the court documents, death certificate and embalming certificate.
“The Greek [Cypriot] rep said ‘these documents are worthless as they are not recognised by the EU’.
“I begged him not to perform an autopsy and explained the documents, but he would not listen and stated these documents would be refused at Manchester airport.”
She added: “I had no contact from anyone, some emails from the [British High Commission] in [South] Nicosia, but only details of flights and pick-up times for collecting mum’s body. . . “I had three calls from the insurance company asking for my mobile telephone number to be shared with [the British High Commission] so they could contact me, but no one ever did.”
Even though the TRNC authorities had already determined the cause of death & its embalming was on a par with those in South Cyprus, Greek Cypriots insisted on a post-mortem and more embalming
Mrs Hannan said that she was put up at the Flamingo Beach resort in Larnaca for more than a week before she and her mother’s body were eventually flown from Larnaca to Manchester airport via Athens on 28 April. Supporters of Mrs Hannan have expressed their outrage at the case.
“Lynda was my best friend who passed away whilst we were on a family holiday with her partner, daughter and husband and grandchildren,” wrote Susan Aspinall in response to the petition.
“The grief was unbearable but knowing how Lynda was mistreated after her passing was even worse.
“The total lack of respect on the propaganda used was unforgivable and has tarnished the memory of a beautiful friend.”
Another change.org user, Angela Moffat, said that the way the repatriation was handled made an “already devastating situation a million times more stressful and upsetting”.
“Hayley should have been home with her husband and children, grieving for her mother [but] instead she was left in a disgusting hotel whilst all this was going [on],” she said. “Not acceptable and needs to change.”
A spokeswoman from public relations firm Hills Balfour, speaking on behalf of InsureandGo, told T-VINE on 4 September that the insurance company was “looking into the situation” and that InsureandGo would be “in touch with Lynda’s daughter shortly”.
InsureandGo has failed to provide a full statement to T-VINE in response to Mrs Hannan’s complaints, despite being given more than two weeks to do so. The spokeswoman stressed this did not mean the insurers did not want to comment on the case.
However a three-page letter emailed to Mrs Hannan by InsureandGo’s UK customer relations manager, dated just two days after the company was approached by T-VINE, said it was “partly upholding” Mrs Hannan’s complaint, lodged in May. It offered her an apology and £400 in compensation – but only for their “poor communication” after the repatriation had been completed.
InsureandGo defended its overall handling of the repatriation, concluding that there was “not a lot that we or our international funeral directors could have done differently, without causing additional distress to you and your family”.
A section of the letter, seen by T-VINE, titled “Why was Lynda moved from the Turkish part of the island to the Greek part?” states: “There is one provider in . . . Turkish Cyprus that would have been able to complete the repatriation.
“Our international funeral directors do not work with them because the quality of the repatriations, in their experience, are not to the standard of most European funeral directors.
“When they did work with them, they received many complaints about the quality of their work and the condition of the body when received at the family’s choice of funeral director – in part, because they do not embalm and preserve the remains appropriately.
“The only way we could have repatriated Lynda was via the Greek part of Cyprus.”
A separate section of the letter claimed that Ms Dawson’s body was “not appropriately embalmed”, a process which “temporarily delays the natural onset of decomposition that occurs”.
“The process is part of the high level of care that our international funeral directors provide to the remains of our customers, to ensure they are returned to the family in the best possible condition,” the letter adds.
“It is standard practice to embalm a body when being repatriated within the EU.”
Explaining the decision to carry out a post-mortem examination, InsureandGo told Mrs Hannan: “It is standard practice for the Greek Cypriot authorities to determine the cause of death when a body is transferred into their jurisdiction. . . the Greek Cypriot authorities do not recognise any documentation of the Turkish Cypriots.
“This is something that is beyond our control and so we couldn’t effect things differently. To get Lynda home, this had to happen.
“The only alternative would have been for you to handle the repatriation yourself (because our international funeral directors can’t repatriate directly from the Turkish part of Cyprus) or for Lynda to be buried in Northern Cyprus – both of which were unreasonable.”
InsureandGo accepted that the length of time Ms Dawson’s body was held in South Cyprus was “a little longer than anyone would have wished” for, due to the “Easter holidays and flight availability”.
Responding to Mrs Hannan’s complaints about Othello Health Services, InsureandGo said: “I’m sorry if the delivery of their information or the manner in which they delivered it caused offence, that wasn’t their intention.
“Their intention was to convey the information as set out in [documents provided by the British] High Commission.”
Mrs Hannan said that she was “shocked” by InsureandGo’s letter to her and the offer of compensation and that she is taking her complaint to the UK’s Financial Ombudsman Service.
“This is not what I want, I want to make sure that other people are not subject to this vile behaviour,” she said.
“I complained about the propaganda that was being used upon me and they reply with this. I’m lost for words to say the least.”
A spokesman for the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) told T-VINE that it had contacted relatives of Ms Dawson “through the company carrying out her repatriation to the UK”, after being advised by the “local police” of the death.
The FCO also provided “bereavement information for North Cyprus, which includes advice on local repatriation procedures”.
The spokesman stressed, however, that the British government does not repatriate the bodies of its citizens on behalf of the deceased’s family but is a process undertaken “privately in coordination with their insurance provider”.
The 15-page guide for “families following the death of a British national in the north of Cyprus”, prepared by the British High Commission in South Nicosia and which is available online, states: “If the [British] person who died was an insured tourist, the repatriation will most likely take place through the [Greek Cypriot-controlled] Republic of Cyprus.
“Generally the insurers will organise everything and normally a death certificate from the north is not required however the cause of death certificate is.
“This will be given to the funeral directors appointed by the insurance company. When the deceased is transferred to the south a second post-mortem normally takes place and a new death certificate issued, often with a different date of death.
“This is because the authorities in the south do not recognise any documentation from the north and the date of death is deemed to be the day the deceased is transferred to the Republic of Cyprus.”
A source at a Turkish Cypriot company that repatriates deceased Britons to the UK, but which has not worked with InsureandGo, defended standards in the TRNC.
“We have to use zinc-lined carrying cases and the embalmment is done by the morgue before we can seal the coffin,” he said.
“If we have a set of clothing then we can dress the deceased. By law we cannot take the deceased out of the morgue without embalmment and [the coffin] being properly sealed.”
The source added that complaints about the conditions of a corpse were sometimes down to circumstances beyond their control, such as when a body is found “48 hours later in 40-degree heat” or due to disfigurement caused by fatal injuries.
“The difference between us [the Turkish Cypriot side] and the Greek [Cypriot] side is the make-up and dressing used,” he said.
T-VINE understands that the cost of repatriation of human remains from the TRNC to the UK is around £2,500, while funeral directors in South Cyprus charge from 4,500 to 5,000 euros.
“There are a few [Turkish Cypriot] cargo companies who jump on the bandwagon who do these repatriations as well,” the source added.