Asylum seeker who set fire to himself dies in hospital

A NEPALESE asylum seeker living in Edinburgh has died after setting himself on fire ahead of a court hearing.

Friends said Uddhav Bhandari died late yesterday afternoon, four days after dousing himself in petrol at the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal Centre in Glasgow.

The 40-year-old former bodyguard for the Nepalese Royal Family was terrified of being sent back to his homeland, where he had exposed corruption in the police force, and also worked on a newspaper story alleging one of the country's most famous film actresses was a prostitute.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He fled to Edinburgh nearly six years ago, found accommodation in Sciennes and learned English at the city's Stevenson College. He hoped his bid for asylum would enable his wife and two children to join him in the Capital. But his initial application was rejected and a judge ruled Uddhav's risk of persecution in Nepal was not sufficiently serious.

Following an appeal, last Wednesday's hearing in Glasgow - a "second stage reconsideration" - was to be heard on video link by three judges in London.

But Uddhav decided not to let his fate be decided in the courtroom, and smuggled a container of petrol into the fourth floor reception of the Eagle Building on Glasgow's Bothwell Street.

Shocked staff said they tried to put out the flames with their own clothes, and paramedics battled to save him. Uddhav was taken to the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, with severe burns, and lost his fight for life at around 5.15pm last night.

Colleagues at The Bike Station in Edinburgh, where Uddhav worked as a volunteer helping to recycle bicycles for disadvantaged families, today paid tribute to their friend. Project manager Mark Sydenham said: "He was a fantastic guy, and we are all in shock after hearing the news. Uddhav was one of our longest-serving volunteers, and we found the work he did was amazing, because he volunteered elsewhere as well.

"He was a very private man, and we had no idea that he was an asylum seeker until we read it in the newspaper at the weekend. Our opinion of him has grown even more. We have lost a fantastic volunteer and a fantastic bloke."

Mr Sydenham said Uddhav's funeral is likely to take place in Nepal, although a memorial service will be arranged in Edinburgh.

As a policeman, Uddhav rose through the ranks to become a bodyguard to the Nepalese royal family, but fell out of favour after exposing corruption in the country's police force.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In March 1999 he was posted to a remote and dangerous region of Nepal under the influence of Maoists, in what was considered a punishment. During a gun battle in which he was involved, the Maoist deputy commander of the area was killed and Uddhav returned to the capital Kathmandu after receiving death threats.

In March 2000 he was suspended from duty and was later sacked for his involvement in the shooting.

The married father of a young son and daughter secured a job in journalism, and took compromising photographs of actress Shreesha Karki - who later committed suicide.

He supplied information to the Jana Aastha newspaper, accusing her of being a prostitute, and claimed her clients included the Crown Prince, politicians and senior military personnel.

The accusations provoked uproar, and Uddhav was ordered to appear at a police station "in connection with enquiries". So he fled the country and arrived in Britain in August 2001. Living in Edinburgh, he spent long hours at The Bike Station and also helped at the city's Peace and Justice Centre run from a church in the West End. He kept in constant touch with his family and sent them videos of his life in Edinburgh.

After setting himself on fire last week, one eye witness was reported as saying: "It's just so shocking and sad that someone can be so desperate. People wonder how he was able to smuggle petrol into the court but the real question is what is it about the system that makes people commit such desperate acts."

Related topics: