films that make a difference
Within months of Neil Heywood's memorial in southwest London, his grieving family learned that secretive Communist Party investigators in China believed that the Old Harrovian had been slipped cyanide by the wife of one of the country’s leading political figures after Heywood had tried to blackmail her. She was convicted for the murder and her husband drummed out of the Party. However, a year-long investigation by Dispatches can now reveal how an Englishman abroad became ensnared in a deadly political dogfight, Heywood’s death turning the spotlight onto one of the world’s most secretive regimes.
In November 2011, Old Harrovian Neil Heywood was murdered in a hotel room China, allegedly poisoned with cyanide by the wife of one of China’s rising political stars, Bo Xilai.
The killing of the 41-year-old from southwest London shook the foundations of the most populous country in the world. Bo Xilai, who had been widely expected to become China’s Vice President, and whose father was a founder of the Communist Party, was ousted and faces a criminal inquiry. His wife, Gu Kailai, a multi-millionaire lawyer, was convicted of the murder, in a trial that lasted just one day. Guagua, their British-educated son, who had counted Heywood as a personal friend and counsellor, is today in hiding – allegedly pursued by secret agents of the Communist state.
As everyone scrambled for an explanation, a series of increasingly lurid stories emerged. They portrayed Heywood as a spy, swaggering around Beijing, driving a Jaguar with personal 007 number plates, a linen-suited philanderer who had seduced the politician’s wife and then tried to blackmail her. She was portrayed as 'Dragon Lady Gu', who lured Heywood to a tryst in a remote city where his whiskey was laced with cyanide.
Her husband, Party bigwig Bo, was revealed as a political piranha, who had consumed a legion of enemies, rising to within a whisper of becoming Vice President of China. Their son, rich kid Guagua, was described as having been chauffeured in red Ferraris between a succession of ever-wilder parties on both sides of the Atlantic while his dad campaigned on a back-to-basics austerity platform. Millions of pounds had allegedly exchanged hands in shady business deals between Bo, his wife and the victim. For the first time the inner machinations of the world’s most secretive state had been revealed for public perusal - and what could be seen was ugly.
One year on from Neil Heywood’s lonely death in Chongqing, almost every person connected to the case in China has gone to ground, raising concerns that many have been rounded up and disappeared. Those who are still free are silent, too cautious or scared to risk talking. Websites mentioning the case are blocked, any debate of its consequences in China is stifled. Working in this climate of heightened paranoia, Dispatches has unearthed a gripping tale at the heart of the political machine: an Englishman abroad whose death was used to stack the outcome of an internal power struggle within the the heart of the Chinese Communist Party.
Dispatches has made contact with a close personal friend of both Neil Heywood and his alleged killer, a first-hand witness to many of the events in the saga, whose testimony challenges everything we thought we knew about the story. Far from being in the Bo family’s inner circle, or the broker of six figure deals, this insider claims that Neil Heywood was a peripheral figure, who befriended the family’s son Guagua: an Old Harrovian giving succour to a new Harrovian, carrying out mundane and unprofitable tasks for the Chinese pupil at sea in an English public school. He reveals the details of Heywood's first me
eting with the family, and expose how, when Heywood’s luck ran out, his own businesses in Beijing failing, he twice approached the family, asking for millions of pounds, demands that, according to the insider, were reported to the police by the woman who would later be accused of murdering him. A dutiful wife, who forsook her own lucrative legal career to support the political ambitions of her husband, Gu Kailai had narrowly survived an attempt on her own life, details of which we can reveal for the first time.
The insider’s testimony maintains that Gu was then framed for killing Heywood. Her husband’s numerous political opponents foresaw how the death of an inconsequential
Englishassociate could disbar Bo from office, dismantling his deep-rooted support among China’s poor for whom he remains a champion, and, creating a global scandal.
As the Chinese Communist party holds its 18th National Congress - a once in a decade meeting to decide who will be the country’s next leader - this film (from the multi-BAFTA winning True Vision stable, directed by Edward Watts and produced by award-winning investigative journalist Cathy Scott-Clark) reveals the truth about a murder that has changed the course of China’s history.
Producer Cathy Scott-Clark
Filmed & Directed by Edward Watts
Exec Producer Brian Woods