11/12/2019

Did Russia drive hero British aid boss to his death? Wife says former army officer who fell from Istanbul balcony was under 'intense stress' following year-long Moscow smear campaign branding him a spy

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7672621/British-founder-White-Helmets-Syria-dead-days-Russia-accused-spy.html

DAILY MAIL
By LUKE ANDREWS and JACK NEWMAN FOR MAILONLINE


  • James Le Mesurier OBE was a former army officer who founded Mayday Rescue
  • Good Samaritan was found dead outside his flat in Beyoglu district, Istanbul 
  • He had been taking medicine to treat 'intense stress' at the time, his wife said
  • But, suspicions have also been raised that he was murdered 'by a state actor' 





The British co-founder of Syria's White Helmets who fell to his death from his Istanbul balcony was under 'intense stress' and had suffered a years-long Russian smear campaign against him. 
James Le Mesurier, who set up the volunteer-led group that enters bombed areas in opposition-held parts of the country to help civilians, died outside his home at dawn after suffering fractures to his head and legs in the Beyoglu district of Turkey's largest city.   
His death is being treated as suspected suicide, Turkish security sources have said, but there are claims it was a state-sponsored hit. 
Just three days ago the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had accused Mr Le Mesurier of being a 'former agent of Britain's MI6' and working for the agency in the Balkans, Middle East and Kosovo.
His wife has told police that he had been taking medication because he was under 'intense stress' and that the pair moved to the area to be near a medical centre, Anadolu reported.
The White Helmets have been a favourite target of pro-Syrian and pro-Russian groups who have accused the group of supporting terrorists in Syria and doctoring footage of atrocities committed by regime forces - claims strongly denied by its supporters.
Mr Le Mesurier had also been a key target of propaganda released by pro-Assad activists and Russian diplomats for years, which had branded him as an MI6 spy working for al-Qaeda, reports The Times. 
Karen Pierce, the UK's representative to the United Nations, called Mr Le Mesurier a 'true hero' and 'real humanitarian', adding that claims he was a spy were 'categorically untrue'. 
She said: 'The causes of death at the moment are unclear. We will be looking very closely to see how the investigation goes. I hope the Turkish authorities will be able to investigate thoroughly, and I'm sure we'll want to give them any assistance they might require.
'I do just want to take the opportunity though to say on the record that the Russian charges against him, that came out of the Foreign Ministry that he was a spy, are categorically untrue.'  
BBC journalist Mark Urban reported that there was a 'good level' of suspicion that his death may be 'murder by a state actor' - but he added that others had suggested he may have taken his own life. 
Mr Le Mesurier, who was also a British Army officer and established Mayday Rescue that helped train the White Helmets in 2013, was honoured by the Queen with an OBE in 2016. 
His body was found at 4.30am local time (1.30am GMT) on the street in front of an office building used by Mayday Rescue that also doubles-up as his home.
The humanitarian's wife has told police that he had been taking medicine to treat 'intense stress' and that they moved to the area to be near the health centre, Anadolu reported.
It has also been alleged that these were anti-depressant pills, according to Turkey's DHA news agency.
Mr Le Mesurier took the pills before going to bed, reports German publication Bild.
His wife, who has not been named, said they had been up until 4am (1am GMT). 
After going to bed, she said she was woken by a doorbell and saw her husband's body from the open window of their third floor apartment. 
Their home is only accessible by fingerprint identification, reports Middle East Eye, and only Mr Le Mesurier and his wife were in at the time according to Turkish police.
They have also established that no one had entered or left his home at the time of his death, Anadolu reported. 
The Istanbul governor's office has launched a 'comprehensive administrative and judicial investigation' into Mr Le Mesurier's death, as his body waits for an autopsy.  
Amnesty International UK's Syrian Campaign Manager has called for a 'proper investigation' into the tragic circumstances of the campaigner's death.
'In helping to found the White Helmets, Le Mesurier was instrumental in saving the lives of thousands of Syrian civilians.
'The brave men and women of the White Helmets have repeatedly risked their own lives to dig people out of the rubble after devastating Syrian Government and Russian airstrikes on homes, market-places and hospitals.' 
Mr Le Mesurier had set up volunteer led organisations the White Helmets and Mayday Rescue, which had more than 3,000 members and worked to rescue and administer medical assistance to civilians in areas that had been bombed by the Assad regime and its Russian backers.
The humanitarian shared tweets online of bombed out hospitals and overturned ambulances which were alleged to have been hit by Russian and Syrian Regime forces.
He has also received funding from the British Foreign Office along with other western governments including Norway and the Netherlands for his work.
And he has campaigned for the UN to investigate the Human Rights situation in Syria, which the UN General Assembly voted to allow last week.  
The White Helmets expressed their 'deepest condolences and 'sorrow' to his family, as well as their 'solidarity' in a post on Twitter this morning. 
'We have learned with shock and sadness the news of the death of James Le Mesurier, founder and director of the humanitarian organisation Mayday Rescue, early on Monday at his home in Tophane in Istanbul, Turkey', they said on Twitter.
'The Syrian Civil Defense family extends its deepest condolences to the James family, and we express our deepest sorrow and solidarity with his family.
'As we also must commend his humanitarian efforts which Syrians will always remember.'
The Mayday Rescue team, which was headed by Le Mesurier as its CEO, said it was 'heartbroken' to confirm that its founder had died and called for 'restraint' in speculation as to the cause of his death.
'Please give James's family, friends, colleagues time and space to grieve the terrible loss to his family, Mayday and the world,' they said. 
'Remember James as the great leader, visionary, friend, father, husband and son that he was.'
The head of the White Helmets, Raed al-Salah told The Independent that the group is 'devastated' by his death and heralded Le Mesurier as a 'close friend to us and to the Syrian people'.
'We were informed by his family that he had died', said al-Salah.
'As of now, the police are investigating the case and have drawn no conclusions yet. We are waiting for the police report.'  
The Director of Doctors Under Fire campaign group and personal friend, Hamish de Bretton-Fordon, told the BBC that his death is 'absolutely tragic' as he is 'one of the few people who have made a humanitarian footprint in Syria'.
On Friday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted: 'The White Helmets' co-founder, James Le Mesurier, is a former agent of Britain's MI6, who has been spotted all around the world, including in the Balkans and the MiddleEast. 
'His connections to terrorist groups were reported back during his mission in Kosovo.'
The humanitarian was reportedly 48 years old and had moved to Turkey with his wife four years ago. 
He was honoured by the Queen with an OBE in 2016 for 'services to the Syria Civil Defence group and the protection of civilians in Syria'.
He formed the voluntary search-and-rescue group called the White Helmets, which says it has rescued more than 100,000 civilians during Syria's brutal civil war.
Known officially as the Syria Civil Defence, the group numbering more than 3,000 sends volunteers into bombed areas to help rescue trapped civilians and administer medical treatment.
It has lost 252 volunteers to date and more than 500 have been wounded. 
The group was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 and received the Right Livelihood Award in recognition of 'outstanding bravery, compassion and humanitarian engagement in rescuing civilians'.
Le Mesurier told Al Jazeera in 2015 that he had begun training and supporting the organisation in early 2013 alongside Turkish rescue experts, starting with 'a single team of 20 people'.
'I was working in Istanbul... and got together with a group of Turkish earthquake rescue volunteers,' he said. 
The White Helmets quickly expanded, and are credited with saving tens of thousands of lives during Syria's conflict.
A documentary about the group won an Academy Award in 2017.
The White Helmets have become a favourite target of pro-Syrian and pro-Russian groups. 
They have accused the group of supporting terrorists in Syria and doctoring footage of atrocities committed by regime forces - claims strongly denied by its supporters. 
On Friday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted: 'The White Helmets' co-founder, James Le Mesurier, is a former agent of Britain's MI6, who has been spotted all around the world, including in the Balkans and the MiddleEast. 
'His connections to terrorist groups were reported back during his mission in Kosovo.'