November 17, 2009

The sad saga of Helen Smith

Nov 15, 2009
WAN A. HULAIMI: Elsewhere
The sad saga of Helen Smith finally laid to rest


Wan A. Hulaimi

LAST Monday, Ron Smith in a red scarf that glowed even in the soft light of fall leant on a stick and walked his slow paces, troubled and stooped by the weight of his illness and years.

He had come to bury his past, and his future too, if I may add.

I can say that I know more than a little of what was going on in his head.

I met Ron at the height of his determination, and of his family's great sadness.

His spirit was strong and his mind dark, with thoughts that no parent should be made to bear; but he was reinforced by arguments and how things just did not add up.

He had been a policeman, and there was method in his search, some say madness, but Ron pushed back the pain and tears and drove down the 190 miles from Guiseley in his native Yorkshire to London and parked his Volvo beneath the window of our flat.

You may still remember nurse Helen Smith. She was the nurse who was found dead in the street below the balcony of the flat of a British surgeon in Jeddah, the morning after an alleged drunken party.

Not far from her was another body, of Dutch tugboat captain Johannes Otten, impaled on some railing spikes.

Last Monday, Ron and his family members gathered together to say their last farewell to poor Helen, 30 years after Jeddah.

Stooped and slow now with age and a serious kidney ailment, Ron said what he had always believed: that his daughter did not fall from the balcony during a drunken embrace but was murdered, and even probably raped.

There's little chance now of his going round the world again to prove that.

As I sat him in our lounge, this bluff man with piercing eyes, he gave a long, detailed description of how Helen's injuries were inconsistent with her fall. I tried to look for pain, a hint even in his voice, of the sadness that was within.

His eyes twinkled with the light of his driven self -- he was tough, this former policeman from Guiseley, and it was this toughness that had borne this awesome weight.

He spoke sometimes with a humour that I could not fathom of how ridiculous the establishment version of the story was; in grief he had his balance yet, the man who was to keep the body of his daughter frozen for 30 years still had a sense of fun and a sense of place.

I was taken to Ron by a man who is also now sadly dead. Paul Foot was probably his generation's best, a serious and a funny man from a colourful family that had contributed a lawyer, a diplomat and a politician to Britain, all famous in their turn.

Paul was in the left of left of British politics, but he was also a founder member of the satirical magazine Private Eye, that strange mix of serious journalism and debunking fun.

When I spoke to Paul he said I must meet Ron Smith as there was a Malaysian twist in the narrative. In fact it was Paul's exposures in Private Eye that held Ron back from burying Helen.

In his book The Helen Smith Story, Paul mentioned Wan Hulaimi, "a young Malaysian journalist". (Well, I told you we are going back now more than a few weeks.) And that was the small part, a very small part that I played in the story of Helen Smith.

Ron wanted to go to Malaysia to follow the trail of Helen's death. In Jeddah she had become friendly with a Malaysian nurse and there were questions that Ron wanted to ask him that he felt could shed more light on what had happened that night in the Jeddah flat.

The story so far had all the trappings of intrigue: CIA divers and British intelligence, a prominent British surgeon and his fun-loving wife, and allegedly one or two men in flowing white robes. And now it was the turn of a Malaysian male nurse.

I managed to get Ron a return ticket to Kuala Lumpur where he stayed for over a week.

There he spoke to this newspaper as I had asked him to, and the Ron Smith story ran and ran as they say, for almost a week, the longest and most detailed story yet in any newspaper of Helen's mysterious death.

Ron was elated when he came back, more determined than ever to fight on and to keep Helen's body in cryonic storage until the day came for another post-mortem that would prove him right.

Last Wednesday, Ron and his family members met again in Yorkshire, to scatter the ashes of Helen Smith, on Ilkla Moor Bar't'at (on Ilkey Moor without a hat) as they sing in the Yorkshire dialect...

Then we shall ha' to bury thee,

Then we shall ha' to bury thee,

On Ilkla Moor bar't'at.

Wan A. Hulaimi also writes under the pen name of Awang Goneng. He can be reached at