Body of James Le Mesurier at Istanbul airport to be repatriated to UK

Body of James Le Mesurier at Istanbul airport to be repatriated to UK

Body of British White Helmets founder James Le Mesurier is loaded onto a jet in Istanbul to be repatriated to the UK after a report into his death found no signs of a struggle

  • Istanbul ledge from where White Helmets founder fell to his death is pictured
  • Preliminary post mortem report said there was no sign of a struggle at his home  
  • Wife of James Le Mesurier seen at Istanbul morgue Wednesday after his death 
  • James Le Mesurier OBE was a former army officer who founded Mayday Rescue
  • Good Samaritan was found dead outside his flat in Beyoglu district, Istanbul   

The body of British White Helmets founder James Le Mesurier was loaded onto a Turkish Airlines jet in Istanbul tonight to be repatriated to the UK.

Mr Le Mesurier, an ex-Army officer who helped to found the civil defence group in Syria, plunged 50ft from his apartment in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul on Monday. 

A preliminary post mortem report released by Istanbul’s Adli Tip Kurumu forensic medicine institute stated that the 48-year-old’s death was caused by ‘general trauma’, adding that there were no signs of a struggle.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Le Mesurier’s distraught wife Emma Winburg was seen leaving Gayrettepe Police station in the city. 

This evening pictures from the runway showed the plane being loaded with Mr Le Mesurier’s coffin at Istanbul’s airport ahead of its flight to London. 

It comes as pictures showed the ledge where he fell to his death. The images appear to show evidence of fingerprint dusting by investigators on the top-floor window.   

The body of James Le Mesurier, an ex-Army officer who helped to found the White Helmets in Syria, is loaded onto a Turkish Airlines jet at Istanbul’s airport on Wendesday evening for its flight to London

Airport workers receive the coffin of Mr Le Mesurier in preparation for its repatriation from Istanbul to London on Wednesday night


Ground staff in Istanbul load Mr Mesurier’s body onto a jet in Istanbul tonight after an official report found there was no sign of a struggle at his apartment

Emma Winberg, wife of former British military intelligence officer James Le Mesurier, arrives at an Istanbul police station today to give a statement

Mr Le Mesurier, pictured, was a former British Army officer who founded Mayday Rescue, which helped train the White Helmets when it began in 2013

The ledge in the centre of Istanbul from where White Helmets founder James Le Mesurier fell to his death in the early hours of Monday morning 

The ledge from which Le Mesurier fell. Turkish security sources said his death is being treated as a suspected suicide, but there are claims it was a state-sponsored hit

Turkish security sources have said the death is being treated as a suspected suicide, but suspicions have also be raised that it was a state-sponsored hit. 

Days before he died he was accused by Russian authorities, critical of his work in the Middle East, as being a spy, which has fuelled speculation about a cause of death. 

Mr Le Mesurier’s body was discovered by worshipers on their way to morning prayer early on Monday morning. 

The Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday an autopsy and other procedures were underway at Istanbul’s Forensic Medicine Institute to determine ‘the exact cause’ of his death. 

It said police were still in the process of gathering security camera recordings near the scene and assessing them.

Istanbul governor Ali Yerlikaya told reporters: ‘Our chief prosecutor’s office, our police are engaged in multifaceted efforts to shed light on the incident.’

According to an account given to police by Ms Winberg, he had gone to sleep at 2.30am on Monday but awoke at 4.30am.

She said that he gave her a sleeping pill with a glass of water and they both went to bed. However, just an hour later Ms Winberg was woken up by police after her husband’s body was found lying on the street outside. 

Mr Le Mesurier’s wife Emma Winberg was seen this afternoon leaving Gayrettepe Police station, in Istanbul

Emma Winberg (pictured, left), the wife of ex British army officer Le Mesurier, enters a car as she leaves the Forensic Medicine Institute on Wednesday 

Officials could be seen carrying the coffin of James Le Mesurier to a private ambulance to take him to Istanbul Airport ahead of his repatriation

The ledge from which the ex-Army officer who helped to found the civil defence group in Syria fell from on Monday morning

The front door to Le Mesurier’s home in the Beyoglu district where he lived with his wife

Police spent much of yesterday forensically searching the ivy-clad property including dusting for footprints on the roof and for finger prints on the third floor windows. 

They found nothing of interest and a subsequent check of five nearby CCTV cameras also uncovered nothing untoward. 

Detectives believe Mr Le Mesurier, who according to local press reports had been taking anti-depressants for 10-years, killed himself by climbing out of a third-floor window onto a ledge and jumping down onto the street below. 

Officers are said to have concentrated on the third window furthest right during their search yesterday. Mr Le Mesurier suffered a fractured skull, broken nose and had fractures to his hands.

Mr Le Mesurier’s wife, Emma Winberg (pictured in 2005), is the director of Mayday Rescue. She revealed yesterday that her husband had been the target of a years-long smear campaign orchestrated by the Russian government

His body was discovered by passers-by between the front door to his apartment and the Kilic Ali Pasha mosque.

Speculation that his death may have been foul play has arisen from claims made just last week by the Russian foreign ministry that he was an MI6 spy who worked in the Balkans. 

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Mr Le Mesurier, 48, of being a former British agent working in the Balkans and the Middle East. 

She claimed he was a ‘former agent of Britain’s MI6’ and working for the agency in the Balkans, Middle East and Kosovo. 

His family have denied the claim.

Karen Pierce, Britain’s ambassador to the UN, also denied those allegations, saying: ‘The Russian charges against him, that came out of Foreign Ministry that he was a spy, are categorically untrue.’

She also said Britain would be ‘looking very closely’ at the Turkish authorities’ investigation.  

Turkish police do not believe anyone entered his home on the day he died. Yet Mustafa Bayram, a retired murder detective, visited the scene today and told reporters that there were still unanswered questions.

He said: ‘The distance he fell is unlikely to have killed him outright.

‘If the preliminary post mortem report is saying no signs of struggle, police should perhaps focus on whether he was poisoned or took any drugs.

Touching tributes have been left at the scene with one saying: ‘James, You will be so missed, but thank you for all that you did while you walked this earth. So happy to call you our friend. Love Always, Julie + Mark’

Turkish police do not believe anyone entered his home on the day he died. Yet Mustafa Bayram, a retired murder detective, visited the scene today and told reporters that there were still unanswered questions. Pictured: Flowers left at the scene

‘And if there are any traces of drugs in his bloodstream they should check thoroughly inside the property for any such substances.

‘If there is any poison they should maybe look at where he went to eat or drink in the final moments of his life.’

Mr Le Mesurier had been living for many years in a house on Buyukada, an island in the Sea of Marmara an hour ferry ride from central Istanbul before moving to the capital.

He is believed to have recently moved to an apartment he had above the offices of Mayday Rescue, a charity he was director of that trained members of the Syria Civil Defence – known as the White Helmets because of their distinctive head wear.

The group, which has had more than 3,000 volunteers in opposition-held areas, says it has saved thousands of lives since 2013 and documented Syrian government attacks on civilians and other infrastructure.

The group has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Police secure tape near Mr Le Mesurier’s home on Monday morning in Istanbul, Turkey, after his death

A police seal hangs from the door of the house of Mr Le Mesurier on Monday morning in Istanbul

The move was apparently sparked by a desire to be near a hospital as concerns grew for his mental health amid reports he was under ‘intense stress’ from his work made worse by Russian smears.

BBC journalist Mark Urban reported that there was a ‘good level’ of suspicion that his death may be ‘murder by a state actor’ – but he added that others had suggested he may have taken his own life. 

Mehmet Tunc, a local cafe worker, said he last saw Mr Le Mesurier last Wednesday.

He said: ‘He ordered a kebab and sat at a table. He looked deep in thought.

‘He would eat here quite a bit and we took deliveries over to his office and home.

‘To be honest, I didn’t talk to him all that much as he didn’t seem to speak much Turkish and my English is quite limited.’

Mr Le Mesurier was the founder and chief executive of May Day Rescue, which established and trained the White Helmets, also known as the Syria Civil Defence, a group of local humanitarian volunteers.   

Outside the home of Le Mesurier in central Istanbul, where his body was discovered by passersby on Monday 

The sealed entrance of the home where Mr Le Mesurier was found dead, photographed Monday morning. Mr Le Mesurier’s body was found while his wife lay asleep in bed

The White Helmets group confirmed his death on its Facebook page, and offered ‘deepest condolences’ to his family. 

The Istanbul governor’s office has launched a ‘comprehensive administrative and judicial investigation’ into Mr Le Mesurier’s death. 

The White Helmets expressed their ‘deepest condolences and ‘sorrow’ to his family, as well as their ‘solidarity’ in a post on Twitter yesterday morning. 

‘We have learned with shock and sadness the news of the death of James Le Mesurier, founder and director of the humanitarian organisation Mayday Rescue, early on Monday at his home in Tophane in Istanbul, Turkey’, they said on Twitter.

‘The Syrian Civil Defense family extends its deepest condolences to the James family, and we express our deepest sorrow and solidarity with his family.

‘As we also must commend his humanitarian efforts which Syrians will always remember.’ 

In this image taken from file video, showing James Le Mesurier, founder and director of Mayday Rescue, talks to the media during training exercises in southern Turkey, March 19, 2015. Known officially as Syria Civil Defence, the White Helmets are a voluntary search-and-rescue group formed to respond to bombings by Syrian government forces

The Mayday Rescue team, which was headed by Mr Le Mesurier as its CEO, said it was ‘heartbroken’ to confirm that its founder had died and called for ‘restraint’ in speculation as to the cause of his death.

‘Please give James’s family, friends, colleagues time and space to grieve the terrible loss to his family, Mayday and the world,’ they said.

‘Remember James as the great leader, visionary, friend, father, husband and son that he was.’

The Director of Doctors Under Fire campaign group and personal friend, Hamish de Bretton-Fordon, told the BBC that his death is ‘absolutely tragic’ as he is ‘one of the few people who have made a humanitarian footprint in Syria’. 

Who are Syria’s White Helmets?

Founded in 2013, the Syria Civil Defence, or White Helmets, is a network of first responders that rescues the wounded in the aftermath of air strikes, shelling or explosions in rebel-held territory. 

The White Helmets have rescued an estimated 100,000 civilians that were trapped under rubble or caught up in fighting in battered opposition-held zones along various fronts of Syria’s seven-year conflict.

Since its formation, when Syria’s conflict was nearing its third year, more than 252 of its volunteers have died and more than 500 have been wounded.

The group’s motto — ‘To save one life is to save all of humanity’ — is drawn from a verse in the Koran, although the White Helmets insist they treat all victims, regardless of religion.

A wounded White Helmets volunteer evacuates his injured colleague following a reported air strike on the rebel-controlled town of Hammuriyeh in 2017

Some members have received training abroad, including in Turkey, returning to instruct colleagues on search-and-rescue techniques.

The group receives funding from a number of governments, including Britain, Germany and the United States, but also solicits individual donations to purchase equipment such as its signature hard hats.

Three years ago, a Netflix production called ‘The White Helmets’ won an Academy Award for best short documentary.

A second film on the group, named ‘Last Men in Aleppo,’ was nominated for an Oscar in 2018.

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