The student, the shadowy cult and a mother’s fight for justice

Jeremiah Duggan’s death baffled German police and was labelled suicide. Now, 18 months on, new evidence has prompted a reinvestigation

His death at a bleak road junction in Germany seemed destined to remain shrouded in mystery. Shortly after leaving a meeting staged by far-right extremists, British student Jeremiah Duggan inexplicably ran in front of speeding traffic. Now the chain of events that led to the 22-year-old sustaining fatal head injuries early one morning on a Wiesbaden ring road are to be re-examined by police.

For his mother, Erica, it is the culmination of an 18-month battle to discover what happened during her son’s final days.

All she did know was that her Jewish son would never return home after becoming embroiled with the LaRouche organisation, a shadowy cult led by a convicted fraudster with virulent anti-Semitic views. When police broke the news that Duggan had died they urged Erica ‘to go nowhere near those people, they are dangerous.’

It was advice quickly ignored. Driven by a desire for truth, the retired teacher began a one-woman investigation that would take her into the political orbit of a group obsessed with conspiracy theories, apocalyptic prophesies and extreme political ideology.

Over the months Erica, 58, has tracked down 20 former members of the LaRouche group from as far afield as Australia and Canada. Each interview corroborates allegations of mind control and intimidation, substantiating a Scotland Yard internal report that the movement seems to be a ‘political cult with sinister and dangerous connections’. More than ?50,000 raised from selling her home funded her quest, but this has now run out.

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Yesterday speaking from her parents’ house in Golders Green, north London, where a study holds 30 box-files of notes, testimonies and observations, she said: ‘The pain never goes away, sometimes I am out and a tremendous wave of grief washes over me. There have been times when I have nearly given up, especially after talking to people damaged after contact with LaRouche. Now I feel confident that we are heading towards the truth.’

German police long maintained the case was closed, saying Duggan hurled himself in front of fast-moving vehicles on 27 March last year. Now German prosecutors have told government officials they plan to re-open the investigation. They have been told about new evidence compiled by Erica and her lawyers that raises grave questions over their initial verdict that he took his own life.

Duggan, recognisable for his mop of dark curly hair and wide smile, was known as a young man who loved life. However when the talented tennis player called his mother just 35 minutes before his death, he sounded terrified. The former pupil of Christ’s Hospital school in Sussex told Erica he was in ‘big trouble’. Asked where he was, Duggan began spelling out Wiesbaden. Before he could reach ‘b’ the phone line went dead.

On the night of his death, Duggan attended a conference protesting against the Iraq war, which had started eight days earlier. The meeting was organised by the Schiller Institute, an extreme political group linked to LaRouche that shared a deep anti-Semitic streak. The institute is led by Lyndon LaRouche, a US right-wing conspiracy theorist once sentenced to 15 years in prison for fraud and who stood in this year’s presidential elections. The 82-year-old had spoken at the conference attended by Duggan that night.

Newsletters written by LaRouche supporters have recently attacked the British government and, in particular, Foreign Office minister Baroness Symons. The Foreign Office yesterday ruled out taking action against the organisation, but confirmed that German authorities are ‘actively considering reopening the investigation’ into Duggan’s death.

Among new findings that focus largely on the exploits of LaRouche, drivers who hit Duggan have been questioned and suggest a man running for his life as opposed to one intent on taking it. Psychoanalysis of the behaviour of Duggan before he arrived in Wiesbaden yielded no suggestion of suicidal tendencies. Scrutiny of his last moments indicate a man ‘running without thought’ substantiating theories that he was terrified. Lawyers are exploring the notion that when the student died he was not in control of his mind.

Leading German lawyer Nikolas Becker, who defended former East German leader Erich Honecker over killings at the Berlin Wall, is convinced the new investigation will open soon. ‘We have enough evidence now. Erica’s persistence is extraordinary, there are very few people like her,’ said Becker.

Jackie Turner, of Christian Khan solicitors in London, who is working closely with the Foreign Office, described new findings as ‘highly probative’. She dismissed the initial investigation by the German authorities as inadequate. No official witness statements were collected by police while his clothing was destroyed immediately. Even so, a verdict of suicide was quickly reached.

Turner said: ‘It is clear that only a full and detailed reinvestigation can now serve the purposes of justice and to establish how Jeremiah came by his tragic and premature death’.

Erica is concerned that only the smallest delay could persuade more youngsters in the meantime to join LaRouche’s youth movement. ‘How many more people might be harmed?’ she said.

Tomorrow, Erica will join six parents who have also lost sons or daughters after becoming mixed up with cults at a meeting with Home Office officials. The first such meeting for years has been viewed as an attempt by the Home Office to dispel accusations that it has failed to treat the problem seriously. The government has also begun discussions with universities to distribute warnings to students on the dangers of cults.

Former Home Office Minister Tom Sackville said: ‘This is very symbolic, the fact the government is starting to take the issue seriously is very important.’ There are some 500 cults active in the UK and, according to conservative analysis, 500,000 Britons have been or are in contact with one.

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The Observer, UK
Oct. 31, 2004
Mark Townsend
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Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday October 31, 2004.
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