Robert Mendick By Robert Mendick, Patrick Sawer and Tim Ross
19 Jul 2014
Moscow-backed rebels accused of removing some of the corpses, taking their possessions and destroying evidence
International anger was intensifying on Saturday night over the treatment of victims of Flight MH17, amid claims that bodies had been left to rot among the wreckage, at the mercy of looters.
As Moscow-backed rebels were accused of removing some of the corpses, taking their possessions and destroying evidence, Philip Hammond, the new Foreign Secretary, said the “world’s eyes” were on Russia and demanded that the victims be treated with “proper dignity and respect”.
The plane was shot down on Thursday, apparently by pro-Moscow separatists backed by the Russian president Vladimir Putin. It emerged on Saturday that two British fathers and five of their children were killed in the attack as the last of the 10 British victims was named.
On Saturday, independent investigators were again denied proper access to the scene by masked and armed separatists, who control the crash site in eastern Ukraine. One source suggested some of the rebels were “intoxicated”.
It emerged that bodies were being left to rot amid the wreckage in temperatures of 85F (29.4C), and Michael Bociurkiw, spokesman for the investigators at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), said after being given partial and temporary access: “Some of the body bags are open and the damage to the corpses is very, very bad – it is very difficult to look at.
“It basically looks like the biggest crime scene in the world right now, guarded by a bunch of guys in uniform with heavy firepower who are quite inhospitable.”
Ukrainian officials accused the rebels of destroying evidence of “international crimes” and allowing cash and credit cards to be stolen from the dead. They also claimed 38 corpses had been taken to a mortuary in Donetsk, which is under separatist control, preventing investigators from reaching the bodies.
Amid growing condemnation Mr Hammond told the Telegraph: “It’s a fundamental principle of human decency that the victims and their possessions should be treated with dignity. I have seen reporting in the media which suggests that these norms are not being respected. We have no evidence that this is the case – but if it turns out to be so, those responsible can be sure they will be held to account for their crimes.”
A senior British source said: “Putin needs to feel some pain before he will change his behaviour.”
Frans Timmermans, Mr Hammond’s Dutch counterpart, whose country lost 193 citizens, said: “We are already shocked by the news we got today of bodies being dragged around, of the site not being treated properly … People are angry, furious.”
John Allen, a lawyer, and Andrew Hoare, a banker, were the last two of the British victims to be named yesterday. Both men perished along with their wives and five of their children. A third Briton named on Saturday was Robert Ayley, 29, a father of two, who was travelling alone back to his home in New Zealand where he lives with his wife Sharlene and their children Seth, four, and Taylor, two.
Before boarding, he sent an email to his mother: “Right now, I’m just looking forward to seeing the boys and Sharlene. It’s been a long, long journey. I hope all is well, if we don’t talk before hand, I will see you on Saturday. Lots of Love Rob.”
Andrew Hoare, 59, a banker who lived in Luxembourg, his wife Estella Vermeulen-Hoare, 51, and their two sons Friso, 14, and 12-year-old Jasper all died in the disaster.
Mr Hoare was taking his family, who were travelling on Dutch passports, to Borneo “for the holiday of a lifetime”. John Allen, 44, an Amsterdam-based British lawyer, also died on board along with his wife Sandra Martens and their three youngest children Christopher, Julian and Ian.
Gilbert Crawfurd, a Dutch lawyer and a friend of Mr Allen’s, expressed concern that separatists were preventing OSCE officials from inspecting the site. “If this had happened to the US/France, paratroopers would have landed there to secure the crash site,” he said.
Further concern over the treatment of bodies was raised by the twin sister of Glenn Thomas, a World health Organisation press officer who was named as one of the dead on Friday.
Tracey Withers, 49, from Blackpool, said her brother always wore their mother’s wedding ring after she died of cancer at the age of 53 in 1987, and now she feared it would be stolen from him.
“It’s just very cruel that they could do that to their fellow human beings,” she said.