Helen and Theo Gobat said that a lack of police resources in St Lucia meant that an official investigation had barely got off the ground in the seven months since their son Ollie, 38, a hotelier and entrepreneur, was shot by contract killers.
The British government has refused to send police to investigate because of its opposition to the death penalty, which St Lucia — a member of the Commonwealth — retains for murder.
“Getting justice for Ollie is like pushing water uphill,” said Mrs Gobat, of Esher, Surrey.
“Unless we can get an outside police force in, we face a big challenge. We’ve been pushing the British government to do it but they won’t . . . There’s nobody in the Foreign Office prepared to stick their neck on the line and say, ‘We’ve got to do something about this’.”
Mr Gobat’s death is one of hundreds of unsolved murders on St Lucia. The family has so far spent more than £100,000 on bringing in an external forensic science team to recover evidence missed by police and on launching a private investigation headed by a former member of the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency. His efforts have turned up critical leads, brought forward witnesses and suggested potential persons of interest.
Conducted in the face of intimidation and death threats, the private investigation has suggested that Mr Gobat’s legitimate business relating to a luxury resort called The Landings may have ruffled feathers in the criminal underworld.
“This is serious and organised crime, a contract killing,” said the investigator, whose three decades of service in British law enforcement also included stints in Scotland Yard’s elite special patrol group, anti-corruption squad and regional crime squad.
“But this case is solvable, it’s do-able, and we’re going to keep fighting,” he added. Mr Gobat survived cancer as a teenager and went on to pursue successful business ventures that included co-ownership with his parents and two brothers of St Lucia’s exclusive Cap Maison hotel.
The family has created thousands of jobs and brought millions of pounds in investment and tourism to the Caribbean island over the last 42 years.
Mr Gobat’s burning Range Rover, containing his burnt body, was found on an unpaved track on the Cap Estate on April 25. He had been shot in the head.
Police removed the body from the car, and the car from the crime scene, within hours, with minimal forensic examination. The crime scene was not sealed off and there was no public appeal for witnesses.
The St Lucian government asked the Foreign Office in July for help from British police. However, there is reluctance in Whitehall to get involved in the former British colony’s law enforcement process because the death penalty is still the statutes.
Peter Foster, QC, speaker of St Lucia’s House of Assembly, said: “We feel the British have forgotten us in St Lucia. We need help with our police force, serious help.
“The fact is that although the death penalty is still in place here, it has not been used since 1995 and the Privy Council would never allow it to be. It’s something that would never happen, yet it’s standing in the way of progress on this case.”
The Gobats estimate that their private investigation could ultimately cost as much as £500,000 and fear that their efforts to uncover the truth about Ollie’s murder has also made them and their other two sons potential targets. They now travel with protection.
“I never imagined I’d have to go swimming at a beach where I’ve been swimming for 30 years with an armed bodyguard,” said Mr Gobat, 75.
“To think that I could go to the end of my days without knowing who killed Ollie and seeing them brought to justice . . . it’s ghastly.”
Local and international business and tourism contacts have contributed to a reward fund of 250,000 Eastern Caribbean dollars — about £60,000 — to bring forward leads and witnesses.
Mrs Gobat said: “I’d like to see the evil people who brought this upon Ollie brought to justice, for our sake, for Ollie’s sake and for St Lucia’s sake.”
St Lucia’s prime minister has dismissed as “improper” Foreign Office demands for him to waive the death penalty in the case of murdered British hotelier Ollie Gobat, amid a diplomatic stand-off between the Caribbean island and its former colonial ruler.
In an exclusive interview with The Times, Kenny Anthony said that he supports a request from Mr Gobat’s family for British officers to assist the murder hunt, but not Whitehall’s stipulation that it will only send a squad if St Lucia guarantees that it will not seek capital punishment for his killers.
The Caribbean island secured independence from Britain in 1979 and is one of 28 Commonwealth nations that retain the death penalty.
“The problem sometimes with the British government is that they have forgotten the constitutions that were fashioned for us (at independence),” said Mr Anthony, speaking at his official residence in Castries.
“No government can get into the business of bargaining as to the outcome of a case. The British government sometimes forgets that we have a sharper, cleaner idea of the separation of powers than they do in the UK and we must abide by the powers they bequeathed to us.”
Mr Gobat, 38, was ambushed while driving his Range Rover on the Cap Estate in St Lucia and shot in the head. His vehicle was then torched, with his body inside.
A private investigation commissioned by his family and conducted by a former British police officer who was formerly a member of the Serious Organised Crime Agency has uncovered evidence that points to him having been the victim of an international contract killing.
St Lucia’s police have declined to echo the conclusion, though Mr Anthony ceded yesterday: “We do have a problem with organised crime in St Lucia.”
He added: “This particular crime was committed with considerable sophistication….This act, a brutal and chilling act, stunned the people of St Lucia and many felt that it was a crime of a different dimension. It’s not just the family that want answers but the government wants answers and so does the rest of the country.”
Addressing public perceptions of corruption within the Royal St Lucia Police Force Mr Anthony told The Times: “Of course there’s corruption in our police force…You have corrupt police forces the world over and on small islands like ours you are more vulnerable to corrupt influences. There are rumours of it in this investigation but I don’t think I have conclusive evidence to suggest it. These are the kind of answers that we are searching for.”
The family’s frustration at a lack of progress in the official investigation has been compounded by the British government’s refusal to get involved because of its concerns for the perpetrators’ human rights.
Though prosecutors have the right to seek the death penalty in St Lucia, the last hanging was in 1995 and the UK-based Privy Council – the ultimate court of appeal – has historically commuted every death sentence to life since Britain itself abolished execution in 1965. The British government’s insistence on it being taken off the table as a pre-requisite for sending police to the island is therefore seen as moot.
“Their preoccupation with hanging is very misplaced. Their own Privy Council makes sure that the death penalty never gets carried out,” said Mr Anthony.
“We would have no objection to police coming – they are welcome…Accepting assistance isn’t an issue for us.”
Mr Gobat’s parents, Theo and Helen, of Esher in Surrey, have lobbied the Foreign Office to break the impasse, assisted by their MP, Dominic Raab.
Mr Raab said yesterday: “If the St Lucians want UK police back up, we want to give it – and as a matter of fact the death penalty would never apply. We need some common sense to break the deadlock. It’s time to stop quibbling and deliver justice for Ollie and his family.”