Abbas Khan inquest: Family tried to free Syria doctor

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Media captionDr Abbas Khan died in Syria

"Superhuman" efforts were made by the family of a British doctor to secure his release before his death in a Syrian prison, an inquest has heard.

Surgeon Abbas Khan, 32, from Streatham, south London, was found dead in his cell just days before the Syrian government said he was due to be freed.

The UK Foreign Office said he was "in effect murdered" but the Syrian authorities claim he took his own life.

The coroner told the jury his mother had been "extraordinarily persistent".

'Fingernail missing'

Giving evidence in court, the orthopaedic surgeon's mother, Fatima Khan, said she went to Syria in July 2013 and visited a number of embassies and prisons to trace her son.

She said some of the cars she travelled in came under sniper fire, adding: "I felt scared, but my son was here so I had to be brave".

She finally saw him at the Court of Terrorism at the end of July.

"I hugged him. He was a skeleton. He was in tears. I said, 'Look, mummy is here for you'. He said, 'Sorry, I shouldn't have come here, please take me home'," she said.

Image caption Fatima Khan told the inquest how she finally saw her son at a Syrian court

Her son was missing a fingernail and his feet were completely burnt, Ms Khan said.

When questioned over his injuries he replied: "This is nothing, I have suffered more than this'."

Dr Khan later described how the conditions were "like hell" with cockroaches, mice and faeces on the floor, his mother said.

He added he was beaten up by other inmates and interrogated by men who beat him with rubber hoses, the jury heard.

'Allegedly hanged'

On 22 November 2012, Dr Khan was detained while out for a walk while working in a hospital in Aleppo to help civil war victims. He was found dead on 16 December 2013.

Chief coroner Judge Peter Thornton said the father of two was found "allegedly hanged" while in custody in Damascus.

Mr Khan's family has always maintained he was murdered, despite the Syrian authorities' assertions he killed himself.

The coroner said the main issues for the jury to consider after hearing all the evidence were likely to be: did Dr Khan take his own life, or was he "forced in some way by his captors to take his own life against his will", or was he "unlawfully killed" by his captors?

The inquest at the Royal Courts of Justice is set to last three weeks.

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