Dying for a fair trial

22nd November 2004, Comments 0 comments

British expat Kevin Sweeney says he is prepared to die on hunger strike in a Dutch jail to prove he isn't a murderer. The prosecution describes him as a clever manipulator who killed his wife for her life insurance money. Aaron Gray-Block report

Sweeney claims there are a number of innocent foreigners in Dutch jails.

Kevin Sweeney was jailed for 13 years in 2001 for killing his third wife, Suzanne Davies, after one of the longest criminal cases in Dutch legal history.  Davies, 35, died of smoke inhalation when a fire erupted in the bedroom at the couple's home in Steensel in the south of the Netherlands in July 1995.

Speaking to Expatica from his cell in the Dutch prison Vught in early November, the self-made millionaire said he is prepared for the worst: "I have signed a declaration stating I do not want to be revived when I slip into unconsciousness."

In that case, you will die: "Yes," he confirmed resolutely.

He mounted his hunger strike to force the prison authorities to provide him with all the documentation in his case and to give him access to a computer so he can review thousands of pages of forensic material provided by the British and US governments.

*quote1*He claims the Dutch justice system has done everything possible to obstruct his chances of getting a second review of his case in the Supreme Court. "I am not unique; there are a lot of other people from Britain and the US who were jailed here after an unfair trial."

While Sweeney concedes he is not a victim of a conspiracy, he claims that "there has been a reaction in recent years to claims that Dutch justice is too soft. Judges have got tougher and they don't like to admit they were wrong."

The 44-year-old businessman has been refusing food since 7 July, except for one 10 day break in his fast.  He is growing weaker by the day, having stopped taking his two daily mineral drinks on 29 October. He is now surviving only on water and weak tea with sugar.

"His condition will deteriorate swiftly. I am deeply concerned that he could die within a few days," lawyer Sabine Zanker of British lobby group Fair Trials Abroad said.

Suspicious fire

Although Sweeney's medical condition is grim, Zanker believes he stands an "excellent" chance of obtaining a Supreme Court review because, she said, there is new scientific evidence that shows the prosecution account of how the fire started is impossible.

The case began on the night of 16-17 July 1995 when the emergency services received reports of a fire at the couple's home. Fire fighters found Davies curled up naked in a wardrobe.

Investigators immediately suspected foul play as there was the smell of turpentine in the room. A bottle of methylated spirits was found behind the door leading from the bedroom to the bathroom. Another bottle of methylated spirits was found wrapped in five rolls of toilet paper in the corner of the bathroom.

The remains of a packet of cigarettes and a lighter were found beside the bed, but there was no sign of an ashtray.

On the night of the fire, Davies had stayed behind to clean paint stains in the house and await her brother, who was due to visit in the morning. Sweeney left between 2.10am and 2.30am to drive back to Brussels, where one of his two children from his previous marriage, with his second wife Beverly, was sick.

The fire was detected at 3.47am and the prosecutor claimed that Sweeney started the blaze before he left the house in order to cash in her life insurance policies, totalling at least GBP 635,000.

Sweeney's defence lawyers claimed during the trial that Davies had fallen asleep in bed with a burning cigarette.  Sweeney expanded on this to Expatica and suggested his wife may have committed suicide. She had large debts, he said, which he was guarantor for. 

The defence also argued Sweeney had left the house some 30 minutes before the fatal fire broke out and pointed out that the house was locked from the inside.

Den Bosch Court acquitted the British national in October 1996, dismissing the prosecution's demand that Sweeney be sentenced to 15 years jail.

Legal wrangle

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