A UK coroner has criticised the Qatari authorities for a lack of information which was “no doubt … an added source of distress” to the family of a young woman who was killed in a hit-and-run crash.
Beautician Rafaelle Tsakanika, 21, from Cambridge, was the front seat passenger of a grey Toyota Land Cruiser which was struck from behind by a speeding white vehicle, of the same make and model, an inquest in Peterborough heard on Wednesday.
The collision caused the vehicle she was travelling in, in the fast lane of a four-lane carriageway near Doha, to lose control and overturn on March 30, 2019.
Simon Milburn, area coroner for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, apologised to Ms Tsakanika’s parents for having “not been able to provide you with all of the answers you wanted”.
He said that “in very large part has been due to the lack of detailed forensic information that came out of Qatar”.
The coroner said: “The Qatari documents provided do not, sadly, provide an accurate time and location of Raffy’s death.
“The lack of that information has no doubt been an added source of distress to Raffy’s family.”
The coroner said that potential witnesses based in Qatar took no part in proceedings “despite attempts to engage by the coroner’s service”.
He said that accounts taken by the Qatari authorities were “without exception brief and lacking in significant detail” and had not translated well into English.
He recorded that Ms Tsakanika, known as Raffy, died from traumatic head and abdominal injuries.
He concluded that her death was the result of a road traffic collision, and that it was “caused when the vehicle in which she was travelling was struck from behind by a second vehicle travelling at excess speed causing the former to lose control and overturn”.
He added: “The second vehicle did not stop at the scene.”
Mr Milburn said that the white vehicle, driven by Mubarak Al Hajri, was “travelling significantly faster” than the grey vehicle, which was driven by Ms Tsakanika’s friend Mohammed Ahmed Hussein Ali Al Majid.
Mr Milburn said that Al Hajri’s vehicle was travelling “significantly in excess” of the 120km per hour (75 miles per hour) speed limit.
He said Al Hajri “had ‘flashed’ a number of vehicles travelling ahead of him in an attempt to get them to move out of his way”.
At 12.06am a speed camera clocked Al Hajri’s vehicle travelling at 191km/h (118mph), showing it undamaged, and a second camera captured it at 181km/h (112mph) at 12.12am showing “damage consistent with a collision”, Mr Milburn said.
“Sadly neither speed camera location nor the images taken have ever been provided by the Qatari authorities,” said Mr Milburn.
He told Wednesday’s hearing that the material that was provided by the Qatari authorities was “far from ideal”, with detailed descriptions of the collision scene and of vehicles not provided.
He said that a UK forensic collision investigator, instructed by the coroner, was given a “small number of relatively poor quality photos taken during the hours of darkness on March 30 2019 after the incident”.
The investigator tried to use video footage and photographs “provided by family following the drive through with police” eight or nine days after the incident.
The coroner said that the conclusions of the forensic collision investigator in the UK “were not reached with the benefit of the fullest information”.
“The fact that ‘the fullest information’ was not available is entirely due to the limited assistance offered by the Qatari authorities either because a full forensic investigation was never carried out or, if it was, the results of that investigation have never been provided to this court or to Raffy’s family,” said Mr Milburn.
Ms Tsakanika’s stepfather Donal Sullivan, a construction specialist who was involved in work on World Cup stadiums in Qatar, told an earlier hearing that he found his daughter’s body in a hospital morgue, having started to search wards himself after being “passed from pillar to post” by police.
Mr Milburn said: “Without any support from the authorities they were shown their daughter’s body – it is difficult to even begin to imagine the horror of that experience.”
Court documents, seen by the PA news agency, show that teacher Mubarak Al Hajri, then aged 46, was convicted in Qatari courts of causing Ms Tsakanika’s death, causing serious injuries to her friend, driving in a way that endangered lives, fleeing the scene of an accident and speeding.
He was sentenced to two months in prison and ordered to pay compensation to Ms Tsakanika’s family.
Jo Sullivan, Raffy’s mother, said after the inquest: “This has been the most horrendous three and a half years of our lives.
“We are empty shells of our real selves and are still struggling to come to terms with the fact that Raffy is not here.”
She continued: “Having supported that awful country as they were attempting to join the global stage as a major player, I cannot believe the way the Qataris treated us from the moment we found Raffy dead in the hospital mortuary ourselves, with no one in authority offering to help us when she went missing.
“What kind of country would make parents scour hospital wards themselves to find their missing daughter.
“The final straw, however, in our misery was the Qataris not helping the coroner with his inquiry.
“The Qataris seem determined to condemn us to a lifetime of not knowing how Raffy died.
“All I can do now is warn the world what this country is really like as they try to persuade us all to treat them like a real member of the international community.
“No decent country treats human beings this way.”
Donal Sullivan, Raffy’s stepfather, said that “were it not for expat friends in Qatar, our lawyers and our adviser Radd Seiger, we wouldn’t have even got this far”.
Family adviser and spokesman Mr Seiger said it was “clear” that the coroner “did his absolute best in difficult circumstances with both arms tied behind his back without cooperation from the Qataris”.
He said the coroner had “quite rightly been scathing about the lack of cooperation from the Qatari government and I am shocked that no one at the FCDO has seen fit to reach out to us to explain what they are going to do to rectify the situation”.
He has called for Foreign Secretary James Cleverly to meet him and Raffy’s family “to discuss what is going to be done about this and how we are going to give Raffy’s family some peace”.
An Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We have provided support to the family of a woman who died in Qatar in 2019 and raised her case with the Qatari authorities at a senior level.
“We stand ready to offer further consular assistance as appropriate.”