In November 2011, Old Harrovian Neil Heywood was murdered in a hotel room in China, allegedly poisoned by the wife of one of China’s rising political stars. 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 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 incredible stories emerged. Millions of pounds had allegedly exchanged hands in shady business deals between Bo, his wife and the victim. Heywood was portrayed 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.
One year on from Neil Heywood’s lonely death in Chongqing, almost every person connected to the case in China has been rounded up, while some have disappeared. Those who are still free are silent, too cautious or scared to risk talking. Websites mentioning the case are blocked and 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: the death of an Englishman abroad that was used to stack the outcome of an internal power struggle within the heart of the Chinese Communist Party. For the first time we can reveal the inner machinations of the world’s most secretive state - and the ugly forces that drive it.
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 the broker of six figure deals, this insider claims that Neil Heywood was prone to exaggerate and inflate his importance. He befriended the family through their 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 meeting with the family and exposes a history of the Englishman’s all-out efforts to exaggerate his connections and promote himself as an influential power-broker. But in the end, when Heywood’s luck ran out, with his businesses in Beijing failing, he twice approached the family to ask for millions of pounds, demands that our insider claims 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 a Westerner could disbar Bo from office, dismantling his deep-rooted support among China’s poor for whom he remains a champion.
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.
Commissioning Editor: Daniel Pearl
Exec Producer: Brian Woods
Producer: Cathy Scott-Clark
Director: Edward Watts
Prod Company: True Vision