2

Comments

Facebook

Twitter

Google

send


Alex Rowell

British man “murdered” in Lebanon’s Deir al-Ahmar, says father

Lee Harrison told his father he feared his Lebanese friends would kill him days before he was found hanged

A picture uploaded by Harrison to his Facebook page on 22 November, 2015, shows him visiting Baalbek’s Temple of Bacchus (Source: Facebook page of Lee Harrison)

A 50-year-old British father-of-three who was found hanged in the Beqaa Valley town of Deir al-Ahmar on April 19 in what the Lebanese authorities maintain was a suicide was in fact “murdered” by the local family he was staying with, claims his father, who showed NOW screenshots of text messages sent from his distressed son in the days leading up to his death.

 

“[An acquaintance] has had me done in over here,” wrote Lee Harrison to a friend of his in England on April 15.

 

“You need to get out asap!” the friend replied the same day. “All ready [sic] stuck,” responded Harrison.

 

 

 

 

Since arriving in the country on December 21, 2015, Harrison had been staying near the city of Baalbek with members of the Al-Masri family, relatives of a Lebanese friend he had made in Portsmouth, England, where he worked, according to his father, Tom Harrison, as well as a member of the Al-Masri family who spoke to NOW on condition of anonymity. The Lebanese Annahar newspaper, citing an official from Deir al-Ahmar, reported Harrison was specifically “the guest of the Al-Masris in Majdaloun,” a village 7 km southwest of Baalbek and 20 km south of Deir al-Ahmar.

 

Initially planning to stay for just two weeks, Harrison was persuaded by his hosts to extend his stay, according to his father.

 

“He seemed all right,” said Tom of the friend with whom Lee was staying, telling NOW they had spoken face-to-face on the ‘FaceTime’ phone application and that Lee’s hosts had invited Tom himself over for a visit, telling him, “we can go round the [Beqaa] Valley, and you can see all the rivers and streams, it’s beautiful.”

 

Soon afterwards, however, Lee’s trip took the first of several strange turns in the first week of January, when his father says he told him he was pulled out of a car at gunpoint after dining at a local restaurant and taken away for eight hours of questioning by unidentified people whom Lee believed to be CIA operatives due to their speaking “fluent American English.” At the end, they left him at a military “camp […] with a base,” Tom told NOW. When NOW put it to Tom that there is no known American military base in the Beqaa Valley – generally ruled by a combination of the Lebanese Armed Forces, Hezbollah, and armed tribesmen – he said it may have been another group that conducted the interrogation, though naturally he was unable to confirm their identity either way.

 

Whoever it was that abducted Lee, they then followed him around everywhere he went thereafter, according to Tom.

 

“They were on him ever since […] never let him out of their sight. I got that from my own information,” he told NOW. Tom believes this surveillance could have attracted the attention of local residents, raising question marks about Lee.

 

“You’re on INTERPOL”

 

The second bizarre turn in Lee’s stay would then come in mid-February, when he went to General Security to renew his tourist visa, set to expire on the 21st. What would ordinarily be a relatively quick procedure turned into a six-week ordeal when his passport was confiscated on the grounds that he was wanted – so he was told – by INTERPOL as a Libyan criminal.

 

“They had [his passport] for six weeks, and the excuse was, ‘You’re on INTERPOL’,” Lee told NOW. “Then they said there’s another Lee Harrison; a Libyan national” – his voice incredulous – “called Lee Harrison; who’s wanted.” Eventually, he was told there had been a mistake, and his passport was returned.

 

No Lee Harrison of any nationality exists on INTERPOL’s public wanted list. The closest Libyan name to sounding anything conceivably similar on the list is John Lowry, though he is 56 years old, not 35, as the Libyan ‘Lee Harrison’ was said to be. Contacted by NOW for clarification, INTERPOL said it’s possible for nations to circulate a non-public ‘Red Notice,’ though this has to be based on an arrest warrant. No warrant was ever issued by the Lebanese authorities against Harrison.

 

With his passport finally returned but his tourist visa now long expired, Lee went to a local immigration office on April 2 to make the necessary arrangements. Yet here again his passport was confiscated, allegedly on the same INTERPOL pretext of which General Security had, at length, just cleared him.

 

“He went, ‘Are you crazy? I’ve just got it back!’” Tom told NOW. “And they wouldn’t give it back […] he never got [his passport] back.”

 

The below photo, sent by Tom to NOW, shows a General Security document signed, stamped and dated April 2. “His identity papers have been kept with [the General Directorate] temporarily for the completion of the procedure,” reads the typed text. A handwritten word that looks like the Arabic safar then follows, possibly a reference to “passport” (jawaz al-safar).

 

 

Asked by NOW Monday for details regarding Harrison’s dealings with General Security, the agency’s press spokesperson Brig. Gen. Nabil Hannoun said, “I don’t have any kind of information at all,” and suggested NOW “send a fax” with questions, which “if possible” would be answered “in two or three days.”

 

From the date, April 2, that his passport was taken for the second time, Lee told Tom his friends began viewing him with evident suspicion.

 

“He told me there’s something not right, they’re talking and looking at me,” said Tom, recounting a phone conversation with Lee shortly before his death. “’The way they’re looking at me, the last couple of weeks, and whispering,’ he said, ‘I’m sure they think I’m undercover. They must think I’m an undercover cop or something.’”

 

During one of Tom’s FaceTime video calls with Lee, his son had shown him heavy weaponry in the family’s house, including RPGs and AK-47s, Tom told NOW. “So had they thought, ‘We’ve shown him things we shouldn’t have shown him?’”

 

Whatever the case, according to Tom, Lee’s hosts proceeded to take two of his phones off him (not knowing he still had a third), and effectively kept him imprisoned in the house. The last fortnight of his life would see one final, dramatic and fateful twist.

 

“Chinned the gardener and stuck a knife in him”

 

Trapped in the house by his friends-turned-jailors, Lee became convinced he was going to be killed, said Tom, who was by then in daily contact with him.

 

“He rung me up on Monday [April 18] and said, ‘Dad, if anything happens to me, you make sure my blood’s checked, and there’s not a mark on me’,” Tom told NOW. “He told me [they] were going to do it. The people who were supposed to be his friends.”

 

Lee also, according to Tom, called his daughters, as though aware it might be his last chance to speak to them. His daughter Danielle told the English Gazette Live newspaper it was “as if he knew something was going to happen.”

 

Still, Lee Harrison wasn’t the sort to go down meekly. This was, after all, the man formerly known to thousands in his north English homeland as ‘Hooligan X,’ a “clubbing legend” in the 1990s who reportedly rubbed shoulders with Mike Tyson, Desmond Tutu and Tupac Shakur. He was jailed for nine years in 2004 for manslaughter; charges Tom said were trumped-up (“somebody done something, he was sat in the car, a fight in a house, but they put it down as joint venture”). He had also done time in Jamaica’s notorious Horizon Prison. In recent years, Lee had taken to boxing, and fought “like a terrier,” according to Tom. Believing his days numbered, Lee lay in waiting for the chance to make his escape.

 

That came on April 16, when, taking advantage of his minders’ temporary absence, Lee upped and, in Tom’s words, “chinned the gardener and stuck a knife in him.” His freedom, however, was cut short when he was struck by a car shortly afterward, and taken to hospital.

 

Released with only minor injuries, Lee then moved – whether voluntarily or not is unclear – to the town of Deir al-Ahmar, where he stayed at the house of an acquaintance of both his and the Al-Masris, Shehade Habshi. It was at this house that he would be found hanged on the 19th. A photo of the scene showed a cut on the bridge of his nose and swelling around his right eye.

 

“The police have done nothing”

 

The official story given to NOW by both the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF) and the then-Mayor of Deir al-Ahmar, Milad al-Aqouri, is that Harrison committed suicide.

 

The body was examined by two forensic doctors, and the results of their reports say it was likely a suicide,” ISF spokesperson Capt. Rabia Fakhri told NOW Monday. “The way his body is hanged on the door of the house, I don’t think if anyone was going to kill him they would hang the body in such a way.” However, the ISF’s investigation is still underway, Fakhri added.

 

“Until now, there is nothing new in the investigation. The last thing [I heard] was that the man committed suicide, and no one was arrested,” Mayor al-Aqouri told NOW.

 

As for Habshi, the owner of the house where Harrison was found, he was questioned, but quickly cleared of suspicion, said both Capt. Fakhri and Mayor al-Aqouri.

 

“Habshi is not accused [of any wrongdoing],” said Capt. Fakhri. “We don’t have any detainees linked to this case.”

 

Lee’s father vehemently rejects the suicide claims, telling NOW, “He’s got a massive following in the UK as a DJ […] why would he want to kill himself?” Regarding Habshi, Tom accuses him of “work[ing] with” the Al-Masris.

 

“[Lee] said to me, ‘They’re all in on it, Dad. They’re all in on it.’”

 

In summary, Tom told NOW, the Lebanese authorities “have done nothing” meaningful on the investigation front. For one thing, a fingerprint search of Habshi’s property found no prints besides those of the two people who ordinarily lived there, he said. For another, “the two people that are helping the police inquiries,” he alleged, “are from the Masri family.”

 

Moreover, the police investigation asserts that Harrison was found dead on the 16th, rather than the 19th, according to an email to the family from a British Foreign & Commonwealth Office employee seen by NOW. This is despite Lee having made phone calls after the 16th, such as a missed call on the 18th documented in a screenshot sent by Tom to NOW. Why the police recorded that he was killed on the 16th remains unclear.

 

“It just stinks.”

 

Nor does Harrison speak highly of his experience with the British embassy throughout the episode.

 

“The British embassy’s being negative,” he told NOW. “They’ll tell you nothing.” Indeed, NOW has asked the embassy for comment several times, starting one day after the news first broke in the Lebanese press, and received only brief, generic statements about following up with the Lebanese authorities and providing consular assistance to the family. For comparison’s sake, when the Italian student Giulio Regeni was found dead in Cairo in February, the Italian government reacted with outrage, recalling its ambassador, sending its chief prosecutor to the Egyptian capital to follow up on the investigation and threatening “immediate and proportionate” punitive measures if the Egyptian authorities did not handle the case seriously.

 

Tom’s hopes were raised slightly Friday when Lee’s body was finally returned to the UK for an independent autopsy. Speaking to NOW Tuesday, he said the British police have told him unofficially that they’re treating it as a likely murder case.

 

“They know, from what I’ve sent you, and other things, that he didn’t kill himself. They know, they’re not stupid.”

 

Yet as long as Lee’s case continues to be viewed officially as a suicide in Lebanon, Tom and the rest of his family and friends will be left grieving with unanswered questions.

 

“Why have they done it? Why have they taken my son’s life?” Tom asked NOW. “My son’s not a terrorist, he’s not into arms, he’s not into drugs. He went to work every day since he came out of prison. He’s worked for five, six years, solid.”

 

“So, why?”

 

Amin Nasr contributed reporting.

A picture uploaded by Harrison to his Facebook page on 22 November, 2015, shows him visiting Baalbek’s Temple of Bacchus (Source: Facebook page of Lee Harrison)

“[An acquaintance] has had me done in over here,” wrote Lee Harrison to a friend of his in England on April 15.

  • razbliuto81

    Hooligan X sounds pretty legit.

    July 20, 2016

  • Arty

    What his father isn't saying is that he went over there to buy some cheap dodgy gold and that's why he was arrested and that's why he was murdered.

    July 4, 2016