Family ‘pushed from pillar to post’ after daughter’s death in Qatar – inquest

A construction specialist who was involved in work on World Cup stadiums in Qatar said that trying to establish how his stepdaughter died in the country was “like a jigsaw”, an inquest heard.

Rafaelle Tsakanika, 21, of Cambridge, died in a two-car hit-and-run crash near Doha on March 30 2019, but the family are still looking for answers about exactly what happened.

Her stepfather, Donal Sullivan, said the family had spent some of their time in Qatar for about 10 years, with his work taking them there.

He told an inquest in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, that he was “involved in four or five of the new stadiums that were being built (for the World Cup) and the extension of the airport”.

Mr Sullivan said that when Ms Tsakanika, known as Raffy, did not return home one day, they “knew something was wrong” as it was “most unlike her”.

He said they were “pushed around from pillar to post” by police as they tried to find her, and the family decided to go to the hospital.

Rafaelle Tsakanika death
Manny Tsakanika and Jo Sullivan, the brother and mother of Rafaelle Tsakanika (Joe Giddens/PA)

“We just started literally walking around trying to find my daughter,” Mr Sullivan said, adding that they were “literally walking into wards trying to find someone”.

He said that in the hospital’s admittance book there was “one entry that was unknown and we felt we had to go and explore that”.

Mr Sullivan said they were “directed to the morgue” and there was a “picture of Raffy’s passport lying in front of us”.

He said that a worker “gestured to one of the drawers” and they identified Ms Tsakanika.

Mr Sullivan said: “This is like a jigsaw – we’re piecing bits together as we go.”

He said police took them to the scene of the crash and they were shown the car that Ms Tsakanika had been in, at the police compound, adding that they were not allowed to take photos.

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Rafaelle Tsakanika (Family handout/PA)

He said they brought her body back to the UK, adding: “At one point she was our only evidence.

“We didn’t know what happened and we didn’t trust anybody.”

Court documents, seen by the PA news agency, show that teacher Mubarak Al Hajri, then aged 46, was convicted in Qatari courts of causing Ms Tsakanika’s death, causing serious injuries to her friend, driving in a way that endangered lives, fleeing the scene of an accident, and speeding.

He was sentenced to two months in prison and ordered to pay compensation to Ms Tsakanika’s family.

Mr Sullivan told Monday’s inquest that police gave him an account that Al Hajri had been overtaking in a space between the fast lane and the centre reservation when the crash happened.

Barrister John Goss, representing Ms Tsakanika’s family, asked Mr Sullivan: “In your experience of driving in Qatar, is it common for drivers to make use of the space between the central reservation and the carriageway for very fast overtaking?”

Mr Sullivan replied: “It’s happened to me at least four or five times.”

In Qatari witness evidence translated and read to the inquest, Al Hajri claimed he was driving back towards Doha and his wife “phoned, telling me my son lacked oxygen and she didn’t know how to act”.

He claimed he “had not bumped into” another vehicle but “just hit the barriers”, and said he did not stop at the scene as it was the “first accident… I feared the procedures”.

Ms Tsakanika’s friend, Mohammed Ahmed Hussein Ali Al Majid, said he was driving and she was in the passenger seat of the vehicle that was hit.

He said he met her through Instagram, collected her from her home and they drank tea at a cafe before the crash.

Mr Sullivan said he had spoken to Mr Al Majid’s father at court in Qatar and they were a “pleasant family”.

He said that Mr Al Majid, who was injured in the crash, was “suffering from distress” and “ultimately they pulled back from the whole scenario”.

A post-mortem examination carried out at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge in April 2019 recorded that Ms Tsakanika died of traumatic head and abdominal injuries.

Alex Routt, a forensic collision investigator, was instructed by the coroner to analyse the available evidence.

He said that the crash was estimated to have happened at 12.10am, and a speed camera clocked Al Hajri’s car at 191km/h (118mph) at 12.06am, and a second camera clocked it at 181km/h (112mph) at 12.12am.

He said he had been told that Al Hajri’s vehicle appeared damaged in the second photo, but added: “I haven’t seen those photographs and they haven’t been disclosed.”

He agreed with Mr Goss’s suggestion that his analysis was hindered by the lack of information provided by the Qatari authorities.

He said he had tried to examine tyre marks in a video filmed by family members on a police drive-through visit of the crash site, to determine what happened.

Mr Routt said he had been provided with “few photographs taken on the night by Qatari police”.

Ms Tsakanika’s mother, Jo Sullivan, said, as she fought back tears at the start of the inquest, that her daughter was “adored by everybody”.

“I had what I can describe as the best 21 years of my life,” she said.

“Raffy was an absolute gift to us and her community.

“She was adored by everybody and she just saw the best in everybody.”

She continued: “So many people can’t get over this and I don’t think that we ever will.

“Our lives have just been destroyed.”

Charlotte Charles, the mother of 19-year-old motorcyclist Harry Dunn, attended the hearing to support the family of Ms Tsakanika.

Mr Dunn was killed when US citizen Anne Sacoolas drove her car on the wrong side of the road near RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire in 2019, crashing into him.

Simon Milburn, area coroner for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, adjourned the hearing until a date to be fixed while he considered his conclusion.