By Kirsty Topping
FRENCH president Nicolas Sarkozy has ordered an inquiry into allegations of “appalling” behaviour by officials following the death of a Scot.
The body of 31-year-old Andrew Watt was discovered last September in a country lane in the Pays de la Loire region, where he lived with his French girlfriend.
Despite there being no suspicious circumstances, it took three months to return the body.
Shockingly the family then discovered Andrew’s heart and brain were missing and it took a further three months to get them back.
Distrustful after their ordeal, his anguished family even spent £900 on DNA tests to confirm the right organs had been returned.
But worse was to follow after a British pathologist discovered that Andrew was still missing a lung, part of his liver, throat, tongue and scalp.
In desperation, Andrew’s mother wrote to President Sarkozy, asking for help.
Julie Sheppard did not exepect to receive a reply but President Sarkozy he has written back, telling her he was touched by her plight.
Mrs Sheppard: “I got a letter from the office just recently, saying President Sarkozy had been very touched by what I had written.
“It says the president has instructed a member of his cabinet office to pass all on to his justice minister to investigate.
“And I got a second letter just the other day – so we are hopeful that at last, we might be on the verge of getting some answers.”
The French authorities concluded that Andrew suffered a heart attack related to medicine he was taking for mental health problems.
Mrs Sheppard said: “The coroner in the UK wanted to do a second post mortem but we were then notified this wasn’t possible as Andrew’s brain and heart were missing.
“The French authorities had kept them for some reason without informing us.”
Even now, a second examination cannot be carried out because parts of the body remain missing.
And more shockingly, the family discovered, after receiving documents from the coroner in Durham which handled Andrew’s body, that he had been reported missing before his death.
Mrs Sheppard added: “We just found out three weeks ago that Andrew was missing at the time he died, that’s been quite concerning.
“We were told he went walking at eight in the morning and he was found at 10am. But actually he went out at 4pm the previous day and he wasn’t reported missing by his partner until 20 hours later.
“She called at 11.30am the next day but it was too late because he was already dead.
“He didn’t have any medication with him and he was out all night.
The Gendarmerie knew that he was missing and I don’t understand why we weren’t tod and why the embassy wasn’t told.
“Michael Moore has forwarded that to the British Embassy to find out why we weren’t told.”
Mrs Sheppard is also angry at attitude of French investigators towards them.
Immediately after Andrew’s death the family travelled to France from their home in Selkirk in the Borders and Julie was interviewed by the Gendarmerie.
She says they offered her no condolences and refused to let her call a lawyer.
Julie said: “We flew out to France the day after Andrew was found.
“I was taken to a room – my husband was not allowed in with me – and questioned by authorities in a manner I can only describe as appalling.
“I practically had to force my way out of the interview room.”
French doctors said Andrew had died of a heart attack, but his mother remains unconvinced.
Andrew had a heart murmur and was on medication. She said: “The French authorities put the cause of Andrew’s death down to heart failure due to ill health, but given the amount of medication he was on that cannot be certain.”
She claims that when she said Andrew had been on too much medication the gendarmerie deputy shouted at her: “Are you a doctor?”
Despite complaining about their treatment to the French authorities, the involvement of MP Michael Moore and contact with the British embassy in Paris the family are still waiting on an explanation.
“All this has been going on while we have been trying to grieve for our son,” said Julie.
“It is unbelievable that we have still not had a reply from French officials. You don’t expect to be treated like this by the authorities in a modern European country.
“It has been a terrible experience and the attitude of the French authorities has been nothing short of appalling. Inhumane, in fact, and I find the thought of going back to France very difficult.”
The family has lived in France, on and off, for many years, two of their children grew up in the country and are able to speak fluent French.
They returned to the UK from France in 2009 but Andrew had remained as the Leeds university graduate did not wish to leave his partner.
Julie said: “If he had a baguette and his guitar, he was happy. He was just that sort of person. People liked him, he was a friendly person.
“We buried him on Burns night, he loved Burns night.
“We ate haggis, we had five in fact because we couldn’t get one big enough, and we toasted him with a dram. He would have liked that.”
The family is currently trying to establish a trust fund to raise money to let them continue fighting for the truth about his death as well as campaigning for public awareness of the different way deaths abroad are treated.
The family previously warned that the cost of repatriating a body from abroad can be prohibitive.
Julie said: “Without insurance that covers the individual and taking into account how slow the French are at releasing bodies, we had to find £6,040, then a further £2,275 for the return of the organs when it was found they were missing