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Image: AFP/Getty Images/O. Kose

British woman found dead at Istanbul airport

Sertan Sanderson
October 19, 2015

A British woman, working for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, has been found dead at Istanbul's main airport, Ataturk International. Her friends and colleagues say that the death should be treated as suspicious.


Russian passengers were reported to have discovered a body inside a public restroom at the international transit terminal of Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport yesterday.

The woman was identified as Jacqueline Anne Sutton, a former BBC journalist currently working for the London-based Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). Turkish authorities claimed that the 50-year-old had taken her own life. She was alleged to have used her shoe laces to hang herself.

Sutton had missed a connecting flight in Istanbul to Irbil, Iraq. Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reported that she became upset because she allegedly didn't have money to buy a new ticket. Anadolu did not cite a source for the report nor did it specify which airlines were part of her itinerary. The British Consulate in Istanbul and the Foreign Office confirmed the death of a British national in Istanbul.

Suspicious circumstances

Several of Sutton's colleagues and friends took to social media to express their disbelief at her death, stressing that they were not convinced by the official narrative. The International Women's Development Agency (IWDA), an NGO that focuses on women's rights in the Asia Pacific region, said on Twitter that it demanded an investigation into her death.

Amani Hammad, Sutton's colleague at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and a long-standing friend, said that Sutton was neither broke nor suicidal.

"Knowing Jackie, the story doesn’t stick. She wasn't going through a depression. She wasn't broke. She has dealt with missed flights before. I strongly doubt that this narrative was what really took place. You can't strangle yourself with shoelaces," she told Deutsche Welle.

"The media was portraying her as a loser, who could not handle a minor frustration at the airport. There was such a lack of professionalism on part of the Turkish media, exposing her passport and details about her death before her family even knew anything about it."

The daily Turkish newspaper Sözcü claimed that the UK Foreign Office was treating Sutton's death as "suspicious" but there were no official sources available to confirm this. Sutton had published articles and academic papers, which were critical of Iraq's leadership addressing the rise of the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS). She was described as financially stable, living in a property in West London, which she owned.

IWPR under shock

IWPR has previously witnessed violence when its Iraq director Ammar al-Shahbander was killed in a car bomb in May. Sutton, who had worked for various NGOs and the United Nations before, is understood to have been his successor in the position as acting director for Iraq and had just attended his memorial service at St Bride's Church in London last week.

Anthony Borden, executive director of IWPR, told Deutsche Welle that his organization was under "utter shock" after hearing the news of Jackie Sutton's death.

"Anybody who knows Jackie knows that she had a positive personality with a professional, experienced, competent attitude and she also had an incredible spirit," he said.

"We are asking and hoping for a full investigation, and trusting the authorities to do whatever needs to be done and expect for British authorities to work with the investigation at the scene."

IWPR also stressed that the circumstances of Sutton's death were unclear, and that the organization was trying to establish the facts.

ss/jm (AP, DHA, Anadolu)

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