Susanna - Interview 17
Brief Outline: Susanna lost her brother in the terrorist bombings in Bali on 12th October 2002. Dan was killed instantly and his wife was badly burnt. With other bereaved relatives she started the UK Bali Bombing Victims Group.
Background: Susanna is an architect. She is in a civil partnership and has 1 child. Ethnic background/nationality: White British
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Susanna lost her brother in the terrorist bombings in Bali on 12th October 2002. Dan was killed instantly and his wife was badly burnt. His death was confirmed three weeks later.
When Susanna heard about the bombings she was in a hotel in India with her partner. At first they only knew that Dan was missing, and they were not certain that he was dead. Susanna’s feelings oscillated between hope and despair. She felt a sense of disbelief and intense shock. She flew home to be with her parents while they waited for news. There was an enormous amount of confusion and disorganisation within the Foreign Office and on the ground in Bali. This made the situation very difficult for all those trying to contact relatives.
A Family Liaison Officer was appointed to help them. He gave Susanna’s parents mobile phones, passed on information as he received it, took DNA and tried to locate Dan’s dental records because they were needed for identification.
When it was confirmed that Dan had died Susannah and her partner flew to Bali to collect Dan’s body. They were met by police and other officials, and they were taken to the scene of the bombings. Susanna was hit by the smell of the carnage. She laid a wreath at the site and then went to the mortuary to see Dan. There was a short blessing ceremony at the mortuary and prayers were said.
Susanna flew back to the UK with Dan’s body. Dan’s funeral was held on 23rd December in a small village church. It was attended by close family members only. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in two places.
Susanna was deeply affected by her brother’s death. She felt as though she had fallen through a trap door into another world. For months she found it hard to sleep and when she did sleep she had nightmares. She said that she was unprepared for the time it took for her to get back to anything like a normal life, and that there is a level of pain that never goes away. She said that, “The tragedy is still as stark and sad as the day it happened.”
After Dan’s funeral the Family Liaison Officer put her in touch with Victims Support. They found a counsellor who saw Susanna on a regular basis and who was helpful. In March 2003 some of the relatives of those who had died formed the UK Bali Bombings Victims Group. Relatives felt that they had not received adequate support from the Government. Many people needed financial help and long term counselling.
There were many practical problems which made the situation particularly difficult. Relatives had to deal with foreign agencies, who spoke other languages, in other time zones. Many relatives needed financial support as well as psychological support. The UK government had paid for the bodies to be brought back to Heathrow but no further. Many insurance companies were not prepared to help with financial costs because people had died in an act of terrorism. Relatives were not entitled to Criminal Injuries Compensation because the murders took place outside Europe. The inquest was held nine months later. The coroner found that people had died due to multiple injuries associated with the bombing.
The families organised a commemorative service and placed a memorial in St James’s Park for those who died in Bali on 12th October 2002. Susanna found this cathartic. She said that there is no such thing as “closure”. She has learnt to live with her brother’s death.
After Dan died family members set up a Charity called Dans Fund For Burns, which aims to provide swift and practical help to people who have been affected by burn injuries.
Susanna was interviewed in 2008.
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Susanna described survivor's guilt and other emotions after her brother was killed in a bomb in...
Well one of the things that, one of the typical responses of a bereaved individual is that it also intensified other issues that may have been going on anyway, so in many ways you’re, and there’s a huge amount of survivors guilt, even though you weren’t there, you know.
The other thing you’re so blooming tired, and you’re in such a pickle that you don’t really remember very clearly quite a lot of the things that went on, although apparently you, I appeared quite lucid at the time, I don’t think I was really. I wrote an article recently which was published in the Independent, about how you feel, and that was quite cathartic because you just had these extraordinary states of partial confusion and shock going on for months and months and months, compounded by the sleeplessness and the nightmares and the, and this distracting smell of death.. And when you do, you feel like you’re going to make an effort after three or four months and really start to concentrate, try and concentrate at work and then the trials start, and, the press are phoning up, and that’s very difficult coping with the, accidents happen, but the fact that people intended to do it was, was, took a long time to cope with, so you’re competing with this huge variety of conflicting topic areas, well not necessarily conflicting but you’re suddenly having, you know, this huge information dump thrown at you, which affects you in every single part of your life. And, and the effect of having a brother die is, I don’t have any other siblings, so that’s biologically he’s almost identical to you, and he’s just, poof that’s it, he’s gone and the most extraordinary shock.
The inquest for those killed by the Bali bomb was held about nine months later. During the...
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Was there an inquest?
There was an inquest. That was held in the June I think. It was certainly about nine months after my brother was killed. It wasn’t until the inquest that we discovered what exactly had killed him. And in hindsight it would’ve been fantastic if they’d been able to tell us earlier, because it means that for nine months you just don’t know, I mean what really happened.
Was the inquest in this country?
Yes it was in this country and it was, for most of the British relatives, all simultaneously, and they were all declared to have died of multiple injuries associated with the bombing, but luckily we could actually talk to the pathologist, who had inspected each of the bodies, and we were able to ask questions like' Well what does a bomb explosion do to a person? And how do you know he died instantly? And he was able to explain that, you know, essentially they didn’t need to open any of them up because they knew that; because you could tell from the physical condition of the bodies how close they had been to the source of the blast, and that essentially that your internal organs explode and that’s it, bang, and you’re very likely you would be unconscious in, you know your brain will have, you will be dead within seconds, if not instantly.
And did you attend the inquest?
Yes, we did.
Were you prepared for the inquest, did the Coroner’s Officer talk to you before hand?
No. But actually the Coroner was fantastic, and she came along afterwards to the where we had a a memorial service at St. Martin in the Fields on the first anniversary…
Victim Support provided a counsellor trained in trauma incident counselling. Counselling was free...
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…the family liaison officer had put me in touch with Camden Victim Support, and I got allocated a counsellor who was really very good and had got some training in traumatic incident counselling.
Was she doing it as a volunteer?
Yes, I think so, but she was really fantastic, a maverick but that in a way helped, because we weren’t as a, as a group we weren’t really formally offered counselling for two years, because in so many ways all the institutions were completely unprepared for Bali. The Foreign Office was unprepared for it, didn’t know what to do. The British Government didn’t know what to do. All sorts of organisations were just not, were just caught completely off guard, and took a long time to galvanise. And in the meantime a lot of damage got compounded arguably. One of the extraordinary things about an event such the traumatic, I mean people have often asked what’s the difference between, losing somebody in a bombing and a, a different sort of bereavement. I think one of the things that, I mean death is, everybody’s death is loss, an equal loss and there is no hierarchy in bereavement, but there are particular aspects that come out of a terrorist bombing, one of course it’s a crime, it’s murder. There’s a massive police investigation. Two, identification of survivors and bodies and victims is quite a complex thing, and isn’t always very straightforward. I know that some people had to wait a very long time just before Christmas and I think the last British person was identified, formally identified as being dead. And the legal aspects of what happens when a load of young, young, young people, most of them, most of the people being British, the British who were killed were between 18 and 35, they were all killed in the middle of their lives, most of them hadn’t got wills, and so there was a huge, and they never knew they were going to die, so they were killed in the middle of their lives, completely unprepared. And there were huge problems sorting all of that out.
How long did you go on having counselling, sort of regular counselling for?
Probably a year.
Was that weekly?
No, bi-monthly, because I had to pay for it.
Oh. So victim support…
Oh the first, no the first, the first six months I think were free and then the counsellor left Victim Support, so, and I followed the counsellor.
So she was doing it on a voluntary basis to start with?
Yes, and then, yes. So, but I mean, essentially you’re pretty much on your own.
Six years after her brother died Susanna still feels pain that will never go away, that time...
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And we had nightmares for months and months afterwards, when we could sleep and insomnia most of the time. Very difficult to concentrate, very difficult to focus on normal average family, you know normal average working life really. And it took a long time for it not to be the only thought in my head, maybe a year and a half. And it was just this enormous elephant in the room that I just couldn’t get round, I just, and you just have to learn to just live a completely different life, with the facts of what happened and the trauma that will scar you forever in your head, and in your personality. And it’s an extraordinary thing to have to try and cope with, and there’s no, there’s no, there’s no easy way of doing it, and there’s no, and time doesn’t help. It may help you, it may help you work out how to live a different life, but it doesn’t change the tragedy. The tragedy is just as stark and as and as sad today as it was the day it happened. Except the day it happened we still had a bit of hope that he might have survived, and you’re inured to an extent by the physical effects of shock.
How are you now? How would you sum up how you are now?
Well you just learn to live in a, in a different world. And I now have a three year old son, and you just learn to live a different life really, and there’s just a level of pain in one’s life that will never really go away, and I very much miss having a brother. I want a brother; I don’t want to be an only child. You know, you know, and a lot of other, my friends that I’ve met through Bali feel the same. They’re now coping with ageing and prematurely aged relatives, parents, and you’ll be doing that by yourself, I mean there are ways in which my brother could talk to my parents that I couldn’t, you know? You know he’d be able to persuade them in, on some aspects, you know so, I’m kind of left, single handedly coping with something that would’ve been difficult even if it was you know it.
There’s no such thing as closure, its, you learn to live with it, but you will never be able to close a chapter. You will never be able to say, “Okay that happened, it’s in a box.” It’ll never be in a box. You manage to maybe to hold it at arms length, but its never going to be a thing that isn’t raw and it may get more manageable, but, closure maybe something that that’s helpful when discussing I don’t know, redundancy, or leaving a partner, but I don’t think it’s pertinent where a death is to have taken place under such massively traumatic and difficult circumstances. I think this word closure is a, is a red herring in bereavement terms, and it’s and it’s massively unhelpful, because I could quite honestly, I get quite cross with people who ask me if I’ve achieved closure yet. And it’s, it really, that’s the thing that really makes me angry.
Susanna knew that her brother Dan was in Bali. When she heard about the bombing she oscillated...
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My brother was killed in the Bali bombings of 12th October 2002. He was killed five weeks after getting married, and he was in Bali on a rugby tour with a lot of his friends. He was killed alongside at least twelve of his friends, and of his Singapore stag party, at least half the thirty men who were at the party were also killed from a lot of different parts of South East Asia, ex-pats, British ex-pats from South East Asia. They all gathered in Bali as I say for this rugby weekend. My brother and his set of friends who had come from Hong Kong had just gone to a meal and they were walking, they were the first table to get their bill, the other, the other table of friends, their bill was late and they were, my brother’s party were walking up to the Sari nightclub and had just gone in. My brother asked his new wife if she wanted a drink and she and a couple of friends went off to the dance floor, and the boys of the group went to the bar, and then the bombs went off.
My brother was killed at 31, he was a brilliant sportsman, he’s still the fastest runner I’ve ever met, he was a Cambridge educated lawyer, and barrister, was a lawyer in Hong Kong, and was a man at the top of his game, at the top of his career, had just got married and had a very successful and fulfilled life to look forward to, and he was looking forward to fatherhood, and everything, everything was going right for him, but he was killed. And I remember, we, my partner and I were ironically staying at the Taj in Bombay when we turned on our mobile phones and there were, the phones erupted with millions of text messages, and because we were on the same timeline as Bali, and Bali, the Bali bombings went off at 11.30, we’d already gone to bed by the time it happened.
And that was when we fell through the trap door, because life was completely normal up to the point which we turned on our mobile phones. And the messages were, “phone home, phone home. There’s been a bombing. And in Bali and Dan, Dan’s missing.”
So we phoned home, and there was no news, somebody had passed a mobile phone to my badly injured sister in law, while she was waiting to be taken to the hospital and she had within maybe an hour of the bomb going off, and she was and was terribly badly burnt and somebody had kindly put her out, and people were dying around her, and she was able to phone her parents and say that something, there’d been a terrible explosion, she couldn’t find my brother, she couldn’t find any of the other friends that were with her, and that she was injured and that, that was it, essentially she was taken to the hospital in Bali and evacuated out to Australia, but to cut a long story short, my brother was missing, presumed dead until it was confirmed he was one of the bodies in the morgue, nearly three weeks later.
And …….and you have these huge physical reactions, I kept having to go to the bathroom, as kind of just waves of physical shock hit you, and we kept phoning back to my parents to see if there was any news, but there was no news, and we had to, and of course, every second that passes with no news is almost certainly going to be; make, I mean the outcome will be worse. And you oscillate between hope and despair of course.
The extraordinary practicalities to be sorted out were made more difficult by different time...
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There were huge problems with the fact that the Foreign Office, this of course was a bombing so people weren’t necessarily physically intact, and the Foreign Office would pay to fly back an intact body, what they called an intact body, but as subsequent bits got identified you had to pay to fly them back yourself. And some people couldn’t afford that. And so there were incredible levels of trauma superimposed on the original trauma.
And people were still dying up until Christmas, in the hospitals from their burns mainly. It took a long time before we knew whether or not my sister in law was going to survive, and she finally was well enough to travel just before Christmas, and so we had my brother’s funeral in a freezing Kent village church just eight of us, a very small number, just family, on 23rd December, and he’d been killed of course on the 12th October. And you had to do all sorts of ridiculous things like if a, if one of the key relatives is , isn’t able to attend the funeral you had to find mortuary facilities in the UK that can keep somebody in the deep freeze until they are ready to have their funeral. And all sorts of extraordinary practicalities that we had to sort out such as the time zone differences, and the language differences, and the dealing with Indonesian Police through British Police, and it was an extraordinary bad, confusing situation.
Who paid for, did the government pay for Dan to be brought home?
Up to Heathrow. So if you lived, if you didn’t live in Heathrow you would pay from there on, and quite a lot of people didn’t have very much money. And there was, because it’s an act of terrorism a lot of insurance policies don’t pay out, and because it happens abroad you don’t get Criminal Injury Compensation payments, because they cover UK only. And there are no funds available, the Red Cross collected funds but those funds only went to Australia and Balinese relatives, so we were left between lots of stools in funding terms. And it was an incredibly expensive experience.
Christmas is always a difficult time for Susanna, partly because her brothers funeral was on...
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You have to be very careful about things like Christmas because Christmas, well my brother’s birthday was November 5th so that’s a very sad time and in fact we flew back with him on 5th November. And Christmas we find very difficult because not only did he have his funeral on 23rd December but also you know there’s always one person missing and New Year, you know Auld Lang, Auld Lang Syne, it’s all about you know, being with family and friends, but also the people who aren’t there, so those are very difficult times, and people aren’t, I mean in general the population is celebrating Christmas and why shouldn’t they, and they’re having a very jolly time but it’s always a very poignant time. I couldn’t go along to office Christmas do’s and things like that because I just, and also you have to be very careful to stay away from alcohol because you’re in such a state that just a few glasses will tip you into kind of blubbering oblivion, it does all sorts of other things that you need to, you just have to be incredibly, you’re very, very fragile, and a lot of people don’t realise. You know they’ll say, “Oh you know it happened six months ago.” And you’re still you know in the most incredible state, but people, but you have to hide it, and people expect, because they’re, a lot of work colleagues will say for example, “Oh well you know, my Mum and my Grandmother died,” or something like that, “and it was a bit sad, but you know you get over it,” sort of thing. And I think a lot of people didn’t, when, and I would be one of them that were completely unprepared for how long it takes you to get back to normal.
Do you ever get back to…
Well no you don’t. You won’t really, but so that you can you can concentrate enough to function as a working individual. That takes quite a long time. But no, you never get back to normal, you never get back to where you were on, I’ll never get back to where I was on the 11th October 2002.