HL Deb 24 January 2005 vol 668 cc37-8WS
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

As we have made clear before, it is a priority for the Government to ensure that effective arrangements are in place to support the families of people missing following the tsunami. We are conscious that, despite the efforts of the local authorities in the countries affected and the on-going work of my officials and the police both here and in the region, many bodies may never be recovered. This would cause unacceptable uncertainty for the families concerned.

We have therefore agreed, as a response to the exceptional circumstances we face, that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will register the death overseas and issue a certified copy of the register entry for missing British nationals where no body has been found. This will be done at the request of the family, and based on advice from the police, and will be provided free of charge.

We have agreed with the police, who are investigating all reports of missing British nationals, that they will provide my officials with advice as their inquiries conclude as to whether the missing person was in fact killed by the tsunami. We will then decide, in the light of the evidence, whether to register the death. In order to arrive at the judgment, we and the police will be applying four criteria, all of which must be met:

  • that evidence exists beyond reasonable doubt that the missing person had travelled to the affected region (e.g. that they had booked, paid for and made a journey to the region); and
  • that on the balance of probability, the person was in the affected area at the time the tsunami struck; and
  • there was no reasonable evidence of life since 26 December (e.g. contact with relatives or transactions on their bank account); and
  • that there was no reason, again on the balance of probability, that the person would want to disappear.

These inquiries will inevitably take time to complete, although the police are confident that they will be able to complete the overwhelming majority of investigations for those people most likely to have been caught up in the tsunami within 12 months—in many cases, much sooner.

Throughout this difficult period the police will continue to make family liaison officers available to support the families of those thought highly likely to have been involved in the tsunami. The family liaison officers will ensure that they are kept fully informed during what we recognise is likely to be a harrowing process. They will also help them gain access to emotional care and other advice and welfare services, including any financial assistance available to them through the state benefit system.