Helen Smith (nurse)

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Helen Linda Smith (3 January 1956 – 20 May 1979) was a British nurse who died in allegedly suspicious circumstances in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, after apparently falling from a balcony during a party. Her father refused to accept that her death was an accident, and alleged that there was a conspiracy to conceal the truth.

Mr Smith's campaign led to changes in the rules concerning inquests to violent deaths of UK citizens occurring outside the country. Helen Smith's body was stored for thirty years before being buried in 2009. The official version of her death was never disproved.


Following a party at the house of Dr Richard Arnot and his wife Penny,[1] the bodies of Helen (23) and Johannes Otten (35), a Dutch tugboat captain, were found in the street 70 feet below the Arnots' sixth floor balcony.[2] Helen was found lying in the road clothed but with her underpants partly off[3] and Johannes, whose underpants were around his thighs, was impaled upon the spiked railings surrounding the apartment block.

Also present at the Arnots' that night were Tim Hayter, a diver from New Zealand, a marine biologist named Jacques Texier, four German salvage operators and quite a number of other people who were never traced.

The presence of alcohol at the party in a "dry" country, and evidence given by Jacques Texier of a sexual encounter between Tim Hayter and Mrs Arnot at the time of the deaths, led to increased interest in the case, and the prosecution of Mrs Arnot by the Saudi authorities for "unlawful intercourse". Richard Arnot was sentenced to eighty strokes of the cane, to be administered in public, for illegally supplying alcohol – although the sentence was never carried out. Arnot also potentially faced a year in prison for "allowing his wife to talk and dance with other men".[4]

The official Saudi investigation into the incident concluded that the couple had fallen from the balcony while drunk, possibly after or during a sexual encounter.[5] This conclusion was endorsed by the British Foreign Office.[1]


Helen's father Ron Smith, a retired policeman, refused to accept the conclusion and embarked upon a lengthy campaign to expose what he considered to be a Saudi–British coverup.[2] He accused Richard Arnot of murdering his daughter. Arnot later wrote the book Arabian Nightmare about his experience of being prosecuted in Saudi Arabia and being subsequently accused of rape and murder by Ron Smith.[4]

At her father's insistence, Helen's body was left unburied for more than 30 years in storage at Leeds General Infirmary, thought to be the longest time a body has been stored without burial in the United Kingdom.[1] Some six different post mortem examinations and forensic investigations were performed over this period, with varying conclusions.

The death of Helen Smith and her father's subsequent campaign led to a change in the rules regarding inquests into violent or unnatural deaths abroad.[2] The West Yorkshire Coroner, Philip Gill had declined to hold an inquest, concluding that the case was outside his jurisdiction. Although his decision was upheld by the High Court, in July 1982 the Court of Appeal ordered the inquest to go ahead. The ruling imposed a duty on coroners to investigate deaths abroad where the body was returned to England and Wales.[6] The hearing was billed as the inquest of the century but failed to give Ron Smith the closure he had wanted; the jury returned an open verdict.[6] The 1982 ruling affected thousands of cases and was later cited as a reason for the decision to hold an inquest into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.[6] Human Rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson wrote about his time acting for Ron Smith, Helen's father, at the inquest into her death. Robertson theorises that Helen did not fall from the balcony while having sex, but was possibly sexually assaulted before her death. "Usher (the pathologist) thought they (genital injuries) indicated rape, and suggested some violent sexual activity had taken place". Robertson also states in his book that pathologists "Dalgaard, Usher & Green.......produced evidence which precluded a fall from a height".[7][page needed]

Funeral in 2009[edit]

Although her father had insisted that Helen would not receive a funeral until the full circumstances of her death had been uncovered, following discussions with Helen's mother he agreed to hold a funeral while both of them were still alive.[8] Smith's remains were cremated on 9 November 2009, over 30 years after her death.[9] Her ashes were scattered on Ilkley Moor. Ron Smith died on 15 April 2011.[10]


  1. ^ a b c Bingham, John (27 October 2009). "Father agrees to bury daughter's body after 30 years in mortuary". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2 November 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c Pavia, Will (28 October 2009). "Funeral to be held for nurse who died in Saudi Arabia 30 years ago". Times Online. Retrieved 2 November 2009. 
  3. ^ "Australian Story". abc.net.au. 22 June 2000. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "I Know That People Still Believe That I Was Helen Smith's Killer; THE DOCTOR AT THE CENTRE OF ONE OF THE GREAT UNSOLVED MYSTERY DEATHS SPEAKS FOR THE FIRST TIME", Daily Mail, 9 February 1999, p.32.
  5. ^ "Funeral for 1979 Saudi fall nurse". BBC News. 27 October 2009. Retrieved 2 November 2009. 
  6. ^ a b c Bingham, John (28 October 2009). "Helen Smith: Father’s campaign which led to Diana, Princess of Wales, inquest". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2 November 2009. 
  7. ^ Robertson, Geoffrey (1988). The Justice Game. London: Chatto & Windus. ISBN 9781446444504. OCLC 742560407. 
  8. ^ Martin Wainwright "British nurse who died at Saudi drinks party to be cremated after 30 years", The Guardian, 28 October 2009
  9. ^ "Funeral for nurse killed in 1979". BBC News. 9 November 2009. Retrieved 9 November 2009. 
  10. ^ "Balcony fall nurse's devoted father takes his battle to prove she was murdered to the grave". Mail on Sunday. 17 April 2011. 

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