A family who have been fighting more than a month to bring a man’s body home after he died in Vietnam said he was repeatedly “lost” on route and arrived back in the UK in a deteriorated condition.
Denver Barfield, from Leicester, died in the early hours of 16 May when the bike he was riding crashed into a power pole on the side of the road. He was travelling in Asia for three months and was just 24 years old.
His family said they have been given little to no support from the Foreign Office or British embassy to help bring him home.
For the weeks Mr Barfield’s body was in Vietnam the family was given few updates.
His mother, Debsy Clayton, was initially pestered by a man posing as a coroner asking for $12,500 (£10,000) to repatriate him and was sent graphic images of Denver’s body at the crash site when she didn’t immediately pay the bill.
This later turned out to be a cruel hoax.
In the days after Mr Barfield’s death, the family struggled to get an answer about where his body was.
His sister, Charley Clayton, told Sky News: “I spoke to the British police and we were told they did not know where Denver’s body was.
“The embassy in Vietnam later told us his body was in one place and was safe. But then my mum was then told this was not true, and they did not know where Denver’s body was.”
The family was eventually given a bill of £12,000 by a legitimate funeral home to fly him back to the UK. But given their previous experience, they were cautious and wanted to check first before sending the money.
“I rang the embassy and one woman told me, ‘You’re going to have to ring back tomorrow and chase this because my shift has just ended’,” Charley said.
‘It’s not a piece of hand luggage’
Mr Barfield was eventually put on a flight on 27 May. His sister said the family were told this would be direct, but instead, the passenger plane had a nine-hour layover in Istanbul.
On 28 May, Debsy Clayton rang the local hospital, where they were told Mr Barfield would be brought, and was told they had no idea where his body was.
“Mum was hysterical,” said Charley.
“How can you lose a body? It’s not like it’s a piece of hand luggage.”
Mr Barfield’s mother then rang the police, only to be told it was not a police matter. Charley said a member of the control room staff then told her mother to “pull herself together”.
The following Monday, two days after he touched down in the UK they finally received word from their funeral director that Mr Barfield had arrived with them – but his paperwork was still missing.
Denver was ‘badly discoloured’ and missing his shoes
When the family went to view him at the funeral home in the UK, they were warned by staff that he was “badly discoloured” and had not been embalmed.
“He was in such a bad way,” said Charley.
“The funeral directors told me they had never seen anything like it with how discoloured he was and the condition he was in.”
Mr Barfield had arrived back in the UK with the clothes he was wearing – which the family were told smelled of faeces and bodily fluids – and the rug Vietnamese authorities had used to cover him in after the crash.
However, his expensive designer shoes were missing.
Charley said she “couldn’t breathe” when she went into the room to identify her brother.
“I had a panic attack in the doorway.
“Denver had his whole life ahead of him – he had so many things he wanted to do.
“He loved living life. For me, to walk into that room and to see him, I then knew he wasn’t coming home.”
Mr Barfield’s body has since been moved for a UK post-mortem, and the family is now awaiting the results. An inquest has also been opened into his death.
‘No support’ from UK authorities
The family have criticised the Foreign Office and embassy for a lack of support.
“The Foreign Office just emailed me over a leaflet, which was supposed to help, but even that didn’t have a step-by-step guide for what we should do to help get Denver home,” Charley said.
“We were just totally on our own.”
She said the family are speaking out because they don’t want anyone else to have to go through what they have.
The Foreign Office was asked to respond to the family’s story, but it did not answer any of the questions put to it by Sky News.
Instead, a spokesperson said in a statement: “Our staff are supporting the families of a British man and woman who died following a road traffic accident in Vietnam.”
Police have ‘apologised’
Leicestershire Police offered the family its condolences and confirmed it had received a complaint, which was handled by the force’s professional standards department.
“During the force’s initial response at the time of Mr Barfield’s death, the complaint handler found that officers acted in good faith and sought to provide assistance and support to the family of Mr Barfield, including working with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and subsequently with the Coroner’s Office,” it said in a statement.
“We have apologised to the family of Mr Barfield following an initial breakdown in communication regarding the roles and responsibilities of Leicestershire Police.
“We have and continue to provide full support to the family of Mr Barfield during this extremely difficult time and a neighbourhood officer remains in place as a dedicated point of contact for the family.
“The complaint handler has reviewed a call made to the force’s control room and found that the call handler managed the call in a courteous and professional manner.”
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