On so many occasions over the years, Helen and Theo Gobat watched as their son Ollie dived into the waves at Smugglers Beach in St Lucia, his favourite swimming spot at the edge of the Caribbean Sea.
For one last time this week they accompanied him there again, wading into the water to scatter his cremated remains and bid him farewell. For a few poignant minutes, a rainbow appeared offshore.
“It was his 39th birthday,” says his father. “Who ever could have imagined we’d spend it scattering his ashes?”
In the seven months since Mr Gobat was murdered, his family has struggled to come to terms with not only the horrific circumstances of his death but the elusiveness of justice and the realisation that their once relatively carefree lives – split between their homes in Esher, Surrey, and the Caribbean – have forever changed.
“Some days I’ve been so down I thought of getting rid of myself. It hurts so much you just want to obliviate, but I realise I can’t cause any more grief for my family and I’ve had to move past that,” reveals Mrs Gobat, 66.
Mr Gobat, 38, a hotelier with a reputation for integrity, was shot dead in April in an apparent contract killing linked to a possible business rivalry. His face stares out from posters taped on walls and doorways around the island, publicising a reward for information leading to his killers’ convictions.
His family’s decision to go public this week with their concerns about investigative inadequacies in St Lucia, and to confront the British government’s refusal to send police to the island to hasten the hunt for the killers, was not taken easily after seven months of restraint. There have been tears of worry and sleepless nights.
“It’s time to speak up. We’ve been too polite and too British about it. Our son was murdered in horrendous circumstances, and then we have to deal with all this rhubarb and frustration,” says Mrs Gobat.
Her husband Theo started a hotel development business on St Lucia 42 years ago and was at one point the second biggest employer on the island after the government. In 2008, the couple opened Cap Maison, a luxury boutique hotel, with Ollie and his brothers Rufus, 45, and Adam, 41.
“Ollie was our best friend as well as our brother….we feel like we are walking around with a piece of us missing the whole time. It has affected our parents terribly,” said Rufus, a father of two.
“I used to text or call Ollie about 10 times a day from the stupidest small things like a bad offside decision to calling for serious business advice…Life goes on as it has to – and kids help – but every day, every experience, you think ‘That’s something Ollie has missed.’”
There is also fear of what they may be up against. Even Mr and Mrs Gobat’s arrival on St Lucia last week had to be finely choreographed; no taxi driver at the airport holding up a sign with their name on it; an armed bodyguard to keep an eye on them. “How do we know that the same people aren’t coming for us?” she said.
“We spent winters here in our dotage and I just don’t feel it’s so sweet right now, I’m not sure I want to be here and I can’t say for sure that our sons are safe to come back in.
“Ollie loved St Lucia passionately, he would have hated to think we couldn’t come here and enjoy the fruits of our labours and retire. He was always saying to Theo: ‘Oh Dad, you’ve earned it; go and play golf, take a holiday.’ I resent that we have to think differently now.”
Rufus Gobat added: “There are clearly some evil people involved and we do not know how they will act. St Lucia is a very special place to all of us, with warm and decent people. However it does have some very bad elements that must be dealt with ASAP.”
The Prime Minister, Kenny Anthony, said: “The Gobats became part of the landscape of St Lucia from very early on, they are excellent citizens, love this country dearly. ..I understand Helen and Theo’s agony and very clearly they need answers as much as the rest of St Lucia. I believe there will be justice for Ollie. It may take some time, but we will find it.”
Mr Gobat’s murder was one of more than 400 committed on St Lucia in just the last ten years. The majority remain unsolved.
His brother Adam said yesterday: “Knowing Ollie and his love of the island he would want justice not just for himself but a better set-up within St Lucia to catch more and more criminals so that at least his tragic death can lead to better things for the island as a whole.”