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Plymouth man killed in Yemen blast 'most likely murdered by criminals'

By NeilShaw  |  Posted: June 29, 2012

David Mockett

David Mockett

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A MARINE surveyor killed by a car bomb in Yemen could have been murdered by criminals involved in a shipping insurance scam, an inquest heard.

David Mockett, 65, pictured below, from Plympton, died when his car exploded shortly after leaving his office in the port city of Aden.

Yemeni officials initially blamed the blast, on July 20 last year, on al Qaeda-linked terrorists.

But police told an inquest in Plymouth yesterday they suspected the "sophisticated" TNT bomb was attached under his Lexus by criminals.

Mr Mockett may have been targeted after he discovered a scam involving fraudulent insurance claims on ships reported as being attacked by Somali pirates, the inquest heard.

Investigating police described Mr Mockett as a man of "great integrity and professionalism who wasn't going to bow to bully-boy tactics".

The inquest was told a friend believed his death was linked to his final job before he died – the inspection of oil tanker the Brillante Virtuoso.

Mr Mockett's widow Cynthia Mockett attended yesterday's hearing with their two children Sarah and Rachael.

The family described him as a huge part of their lives, who will leave a "vast hole".

Mrs Mockett told The Herald: "For us this is a closure. We need to continue with our lives.

"Our daughters have got children and they have got to think ahead. But one thing is for sure, their father will always be with them."

Mr Mockett was born in Kent, grew up in Plymouth and lived with his family in the city.

He had worked as a shipping consultant in the Middle East for 34 years and was working as a principal marine surveyor and consultant for Arabian Marine Surveyors Ltd in Aden at the time of his death. Part of his work involved assessing insurance claims submitted by owners and agents.

The inquest heard that he had survived another attempt on his life in 2001, a shooting.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East and is seen as a hub of al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism.

At the crossroads of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, the waters off Yemen are among the busiest maritime corridors in the world and a piracy hotspot.

Mrs Mockett told the inquest that her husband's last job before he died was to survey a ship called the Brillante Virtuoso, which was 20 miles off the Yemen coast and had allegedly been attacked by Somalian pirates.

In a written statement she said: "In an email David sent to the agent of the ship, which he sent a copy to me with photographs, David states he could not find evidence of bullet holes or of explosions from grenades.

"After David's death I had a conversation with a friend of David's and mine, who informed me that he believed he had been killed because of his involvement in investigating the Brillante Virtuoso."

Mrs Mockett said her husband had felt safe in Yemen was not in the habit of checking under his car as he did not feel threatened.

The inquest heard his car exploded at 1.17pm, around a minute after he had left his office in the Plaza Hotel and driven in to a side road.

He died from blast injuries and was formally identified by dental records after his body was repatriated to the UK.

Detective Superintendent Jonathan Tottman, a member of the Metropolitan Police's anti-terrorist department, investigated Mr Mockett's death because he was on attachment to Oman and Yemen.

He said the Yemeni authorities had investigated thoroughly. They wrote to British police that it was a "criminal act of murder committed through explosion".

Det Supt Tottman said: "You may have seen on the day of the explosion that the government said that this was an al Qaeda terrorist explosion.

"My view was to look at the facts rather than what I saw was a political imperative to blame a terrorist group. I kept an open mind.

"In countries where there is no government, terrorists, as well as criminal gangs, fill the void. We know there was rich seam of criminal activity in Yemen."

He said, from his experience of dealing with terrorism in the Middle East since 2004, if the main terrorism groups in Yemen – al Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia – had caused the death of a British national they would have been "on the front foot" to tell the world.

He said the fact that did not happen, gave credibility to the view that this was a criminal act and that David had "upset somebody".

He said that he supported the view the death could have been linked to his discovery of shipping insurance scams.

"It seems like this was a scam, if you like, where a lot of money was being made in what police call 'insurance jobs'," he said.

"I suspect this was probably the motivation.

"David, being a man of great integrity and professionalism, wasn't going to bow to some bully boys tactics."

He described Yemen as "very dangerous", with very few British nationals living there.

"Those brave people who are supporting the community in what are effectively war zones, I would say are almost immune to the dangers," he said.

The Det Supt said Mr Mockett was a "hot frog" – a Foreign Office analogy used to describe foreign nationals living in dangerous countries.

"If you put a live frog into a pan of boiling water, the frog jumps straight out," he said.

"There are frogs that sit in cold water and as it simmers, it boils, the frog stays in boiling water."

The inquest heard the case into Mr Mockett's death is still open in Yemen, although investigators said it is unlikely the perpetrators may never be brought to justice in the chaos of the war-torn country.

The investigation involved high-ranking Yemeni officials, Det Supt Tottman with support of the Met, and Devon and Cornwall Polices Major Crime Investigation Team.

Ian Arrow, Coroner for Plymouth and South West Devon, recorded a verdict of unlawful killing.

He said: "I am satisfied on the evidence that I have heard that he sadly died from those blast injuries in Yemen on July 20, 2011," he said.

"I am satisfied it was a result of an explosive device placed under his vehicle.

"I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that it was a relatively sophisticated device."

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  • northernchimp  |  June 29 2012, 8:21AM

    Yemen is a no go country. The rewards are usually good working somewhere like that and I suspect he knew the risks well. That said, incidents like this are pretty rare and his family have my sincerest sympathy.

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  • Tamrinbay  |  June 28 2012, 11:01PM

    Yemen i thought that was declared a no go country around 5 years ago .Very sad for victim ,friends and family :( .

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