Friday, 20 February 2015

The Curious Case of Courtney Allan. Was it just another workplace accident or something more sinister with connections to 9/11 or China? – Tim Veater

The Curious Case of Courtney Allan. Was it just another workplace accident or
something more sinister with connections to 9/11 or China?


Courtney Allan (53), from Waltham Abbey, Essex, was the transatlantic trades
director of Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL). On the 3rd July, 2003 he fell
60ft  to his death down a lift shaft whilst on the vessel  “Montreal” in the
French port of  Le Havre in Normandy. It has taken the persistence of his three
sons Ben (38) Tristan (36) and Hayden (34)  more than ten years, to persuade the
French Examining Magistrate to bring a criminal case against the Chinese firm
head-quartered in Hong Kong, for “manslaughter by clumsiness, carelessness,
inattention, negligence or breach of duty of care or safety, in this case of
making changes in an elevator’s operation, causing unintentional death.” OOCL
denies the charge. This trial is currently taking place in Le Havre and appears
to be directed against the company rather than individuals, suggesting the
police were satisfied foul play was not an involved. It seems to have received
relatively little attention from the pres
s mainstream media (MSM) despite many suspicious characteristics and


Mr Allan died from multiple injuries sustained in the fall, just two years after
surviving the New York 9/11 World Trade Centre catastrophe in 2001. He had been
working at the company’s offices  in the World Trade Centre Tower and was having
a breakfast meeting at the bottom of the second tower at the time. Covered in
debris and dust  as he ran through the plaza, he nevertheless miraculously
survived. There is nothing in the public domain to connect the two events, but
given what we know of subsequent suspicious witness deaths it would be naïve to
exclude it completely as a possibility. (1)

He was in an influential position with direct links via the company to Hong Kong
and China. If he was on scene at the time of the collapse it was possible he
heard and saw things that posed a reputational threat to the United States and
endangered its enterprise in Iraq which began just a few months before his
death. Transportation issues around that time were highly sensitive, information
– by virtue of his role – he may have been party to. Of course we have no idea,
but they may have been regarded as sufficient to require his removal. Nor should
we rule out dangers coming from the “opposite side”, particularly if he was
viewed as a threat to China. It would not be the first time Britain’s secret
services used businessmen for covert information gathering.


Further it should be noted that OOCL is a Chinese owned, Hong Kong based company
with regular trade routes around the world and between east and west. It has
political connections at the highest level.  When Britain relinquished its last
important colonial territory in 1997 it was OOCL’s CEO Tung Chee-hwa  who was
“elected” to the top post to replace Chris Patten the British Govenor. Some have
said he was a “disaster” and had to be replaced mid-way through his second term
of office. (12 March 2005).  He remains in political life and is active in
promoting good American. Chinese relations In 2008, Tung formed the
“China-United States Exchange Foundation”, a group that aims to promote better
understanding between the two countries . He had studied engineering at
Liverpool and graduated from there in 1960. Subsequently he was intimately
involved with the process of transfer of the colony back to China. On
appointment his brother took his place as CEO of OOCL.

From this we can say with some certainty that OOCL was not a run-of-the-mill
company, nor the Tungs a run-of-the-mill family. They had (and probably still
have) direct connections to the highest levels of British, American and Chinese
government. (2)


In a further political twist to the story, Mr Allan’s son, Hayden, is a special
adviser to Defence Secretary Philip Hammond and a former head of press for the
Tory Party, when Liam Fox was Chairman of it. It is said he was posted to the
Defence Department in about 2010, with the Prime Ministers approval, to “keep an
eye on” the then right wing and troublesome Defence Secretary Liam Fox,
eventually brought down by the  Adam Werritty scandal. (3) Heyden’s government
post may not have been causative in any way but it is not difficult to see how
it might subtly influence future involvement. This quote from the Institute for
Government may be relevant: “The role of the Special Adviser is essential to the
effectiveness of Whitehall, but so little is known about the realities of the
job. The number one rule for a special adviser is: don’t become the story.”  (4)

Of course all these connections could be purely co-incidental, but it does
provide a certain context. It is rather strange how in high profile suspicious
deaths, common factors keep recurring: a down-playing of the circumstances; an
incredibly complicated investigation; an apparent lack of evidence and likely
suspects;  suspects that claim to be set up allowing the true perpetrators to go
free; associated absence or loss of critical evidence; or incompetent police


After many years with the OOCL and its Southampton based British forerunner, in
2003 he took his very first trip on one of the company’s newly commissioned
container ships “Montreal” – one of the largest ever built – from England to
France. Whilst moored in Le Havre harbour, immediately following a social event
for mainly European guests that he hosted, he fell down the ship’s lift shaft,
sustaining serious injuries to which he sadly succumbed in hospital the next

Given the automatic safety interlocks on lift doors and the difficulty of
disengaging them, and in the absence of suicide or industrial accident as
appears to be the case, only extreme negligence or foul play remains a rational
possibility. This view is supported by the reports of independent lift engineers
employed by the family. A more sinister interpretation is suggested by an
apparently incompetent police investigation at the time and the total
non-co-operation of the shipping company as reported by the family via the

The details of the mechanical defects in the operation of the automatic lift
operation are detailed below. (5) These point at least to negligence in
inadequately maintaining it, or at worst to intentional interference with safety
systems, whether before or after the incident has not been determined. Even so
this of itself cannot explain the accident, if indeed accident it was, because
it ignores the obvious behavioural factors.

Even if the doors to the lift had malfunctioned and opened when the car was
absent, why would an experienced, intelligent man step into an empty lift shaft,
devoid of a lift? There is no confusing the interior of a brightly lit cage and
a dark echoing empty lift shaft is there? Nor is the normal behaviour of calling
the lift and entering it commensurate with blindly walking into an abyss. The
potential passenger is stationary. I have never seen a person leaning against
the opening doors unless completely drunk and there is no suggestion he was.
There is always plenty of time to hold back, even were the lift to malfunction.

To adequately explain the accident devoid of foul play, one has to come up with
a convincing reason why a mature, rational, sober, aware, fit person would walk
into an unlit void. As far as I can judge, there is none.

A mentally or disabled person might tumble forward. Perhaps a blind person. Or
if there was a crush of people behind or if the individual was intent on self
destruction but none of these are viable. All these factors make the explanation
of foul play more likely. Were the interactive safety devices intentionally
disabled or over-ridden and Mr Allan “persuaded” to enter the lift shaft against
his will? It raises the question if indeed there was foul play, by whom and why?
It is also difficult to explain why it has taken the French Government so long
to bring the prosecution or why at the time, given the circumstances, a thorough
police investigation did not reveal the circumstances or lead to a criminal
prosecution of individual(s) or company?


In evidence, Mr Cooper, from LECS UK Ltd,  commissioned by the family to inspect
the lift told the court he considered that the lift door safety circuit had
“shorted out”, deceiving the controller the doors were working properly. He also
found someone had “removed” the device prior to an investigation into the
incident. He put the incident down to “human intervention”. In addition
engineering expert John Medhurst told the court someone may have deliberately
put a short circuit in the door interlock system – a system used by technicians
to open doors whenever they need to but he did not suspect the ship’s crew had
done it. So who did?

It is worth noting that Mr Allan apparently fell on top of the cage whilst the
previous passengers were still in it!  In other words Mr Allan must have known
that the car could not have returned as he had only just seen these passengers
off. It also means there was a very short window of opportunity for the doors to
be manually (?) opened and for the fall to take place. It is important to note
that the “call button” can only result in the doors opening if the car is in
position. It would involve specialist and specific modification to allow it to
do otherwise – or the doors would have to be manually forced open. The fact that
the lift appears to have operated correctly only minutes before is significant.
In any investigation it would obviously be extremely important to discover, who
if anyone, remained on the landing with Mr Allan when he saw off the guests who
were still in the car. (6)


In an article by the Daily Mail in 2011 Mr Allan’s son is quoted as saying:
“He was thrilled when he got the chance to sail from the UK to France on the
maiden voyage of the OOCL Montreal. At 964ft long, it is one of the world’s
largest container ships. Once in Le Havre, Dad, as a senior director of the
company, hosted an on-board reception for European customers and dignitaries on
July 3, 2003.
“Always a diligent ambassador for his company, he was the last to leave. At
3.25pm he said goodbye to the ship’s master, Roger Llewellyn, and went to get in
the lift. But as the door opened, he stepped into a void. There was no lift
waiting and he fell 60ft down the shaft. He landed on the roof of the lift,
which contained a number of passengers, several floors below. “Shortly before he
died, our father changed his will. He was divorced from our mother and was due
to remarry three weeks after he was killed. He had nominated his fiancee as the
main beneficiary, which is entirely proper given that she was expecting to
become his wife. Sadly, after the tragedy and against our wishes, she accepted a
lump sum from OOCL. In exchange, she agreed not to pursue the matter in the UK
or any other legal jurisdiction.
“We wish she had not because it closed down any recourse we had to English law.
Her argument was she could not face a protracted international legal battle. But
we know there will be no answers without one.” (7)


On the  20th Sept 2011 a very belated British Inquest into the death of
Courtenay Ralph Allan by H.M. Coroner Mrs Caroline Beasley-Murray recorded a
Narrative Verdict as follows:
“Courtenay Ralph Allan died on the OOCL Montreal from injuries sustained when he
called a lift, opened the lift door and fell 6 storeys into a lift shaft.
Experts including engineers who have inspected the OOCL Montreal have concluded
that the lift car was not present when called. There should have been a
mechanism in place to ensure that the lift door could not be opened when the
lift car was on a different level. It is possible that direct human intervention
by way of modifications to the lift system led to this malfunctioning.” (8)

I can find no reported explanation for the delay of over eight years in holding
the inquest.


“Following pressure for much more detail we were presented with reports
commissioned by the company and its insurer, the North of England P&I Club. They
didn’t give any real answers and focused mainly on what could not have happened.
We understood in that instant that OOCL wanted to hush up the whole incident –
it wouldn’t even surrender basic information such as the guest list for the
reception. We were shocked. Dad had been a loyal servant. One of the tributes
paid to him was that he was a gentleman’s gentleman. Surely he deserved better?”

“In the summer of 2004 we turned our attention back to France, where the police
had opened a criminal investigation into the cause of Dad’s death. We appointed
a French lawyer, but it was hard to know where to turn for help in an incident
involving a British national on board a Korean-built, Hong Kong Chinese-owned
ship that was in French waters.”

“Despite a 12-month investigation, the French police could not establish all the
facts, so we were relieved when an investigating magistrate was appointed by the
chief prosecutor’s office. Even if OOCL wouldn’t take us seriously, it would
have to be answerable to the French state.”
“On the first anniversary of Dad’s death, we commissioned our own independent
report. We hired a world expert on lift accident reconstructions and asked him
to review OOCL’s report and to visit the ship. That autumn we had what we
believed was a massive breakthrough. Our expert had completed his report and
concluded: ‘I am firmly of the view that this incident is likely to have been
caused by human intervention and have seen no evidence to suggest that the lift
system was faulty but clearly the door lock receptor has been subjected to an
unauthorised out-of-design modification.'”
“His report showed two things. First, that the housing for a mechanical bolt had
been tampered with. We still don’t know whether that was done before Dad’s
accident and contributed to it, or afterwards to cover something up.”

“Second, it suggested that a circuit bridge had been installed in the control
cabinet. A circuit bridge is used by lift engineers to carry out repairs: it
deceives the system into thinking the lift is on a particular floor so they can
gain access to the car and the shaft at will. We concluded from this that the
mechanical bolt wasn’t working properly, repairs were under way and a circuit
bridge was installed. While all the other guests at the reception were safely
ushered up and down by people who knew about the defect, Dad, the last to leave,
was overlooked.”

“Armed with this information, we met OOCL in November 2004, only our second-ever
meeting, and put our expert’s report to the company. Its officials rejected it.”
“We were stunned. We had never believed our father’s death to be sinister, but
the actions of someone, somewhere, killed him. Yet there was no sense of
“We had encountered that fabled of Chinese culture which doesn’t translate into
English: the determination not to lose face. It’s as if the people at OOCL felt
they would be dishonoured by admitting responsibility. We’d say 75 per cent of
the way they behaved was about losing face and 25 per cent was about protecting
OOCL’s reputation.
To preserve both, they continued to put obstacles in our path. Given their
global reach of 280 offices in 58 countries, it wasn’t difficult. Every move we
made, they mirrored. It was like shadow-boxing. For example, in France we had
ourselves made civil parties to the criminal inquiry so we were entitled to be
kept up with developments. Quite outrageously, OOCL demanded similar status.”

“It claimed that because it had paid our father’s hospital bill of €4,000
(£3,000), it had a vested interest. Yet its profit for last year alone was £1.3
billion. It seemed so petty.
We asked for a maintenance log for the lift, only to be told that because the
ship was on its maiden voyage, it didn’t have one. That seems unbelievable: the
sea is a perilous place and as such the industry insists you can’t even change a
door handle without logging it somewhere. The OOCL Montreal was a brand new £26
million vessel, built by Daewoo and signed off with safety and insurance
certification, yet there are allegedly no records of the lift going wrong or
someone trying to fix it.”

“We also came to question the relationship between the upper echelons of the
company and the Hong Kong Marine Department, which in 2006 dismissed our
expert’s report and declined our request to reopen inquiries. The logic was that
it was a lift accident, not a maritime accident. Yet it happened on board a
ship. International shipping tycoon C.H. Tung – son of OOCL’s founder – used to
be the company’s chairman but quit to take over from Chris Patten as China’s
first governor of Hong Kong after the British handover in 1997. His brother,
C.C. Tung, then took the helm of the company and remains in charge today. We
flew to Hong Kong to meet him shortly before Christmas 2006, when he paid
handsome tribute to our father and made powerful personal promises. We truly
believed he would cut through the Bamboo Curtain that had been brought down on
the inquiry.”
“But we were wrong. Upon our return to Britain we received a letter telling us
to deal directly with OOCL’s London office again. C. C. Tung had simply wanted
to get our measure. We hope he saw that we’ll never give up.”

“To date we have travelled to Hong Kong and France several times, we have met
members of the Hong Kong government, hired lawyers, investigators, consultants
and interpreters. We have made ourselves experts in lift engineering. We have
spent about £25,000 and devoted thousands of hours to our inquiry. We believe we
could soon see charges brought against the company for corporate manslaughter.
Under French law, a defendant is guilty until proven innocent, so the burden of
proof falls on OOCL.”

“We have been accused of pursuing this case for money. That’s hurtful and
unfair: we’re simply after the truth. We lost our father when he was just 53. He
was a good man, someone we loved dearly and depended on: he was our compass.
We’re doing this because he deserves nothing less from us. And we believe
justice is now within our grasp.
We have growing piles of correspondence from OOCL, the tone of which has become
increasingly belligerent over the years. But one thing hasn’t changed – the
company’s motto: ‘We take it personally.'”

“It’s just that as far as the death of Courtenay Allan goes, they haven’t, have

“Last night, OOCL said: ‘The company has co-operated fully with all the separate
investigations into the accident and has and will continue to co-operate with
any future investigations. A recent step forward came when the French
investigating judge made the company part of the official examination, allowing
us access to information from all the parties involved.” (9)


A quick Google search reveals relatively few, mainly dated, references to the
incident and none to the current trial. Is it no longer news-worthy or has the
story been subtly side-lined? I can only find the Daily Mail to have taken an
in-depth interest in 2008 and 2011/12 at the time of the inquest. I can find no
family observation on the adequacy of the British inquest or otherwise or why it
took so long for it to be held. It appears British police were not involved and
information is scant on the French police investigations or conclusions. The
fact that the family at their own expense had to appoint engineers cannot be a
good sign. For those of us who have followed the recent Chevaline investigation,
this cannot come as any surprise. (10)

My own attention was drawn to the incident by a short paragraph on page 28 of
the London Times on Friday 16th May, 2014 as follows:

“A senior executive of a shipping company died after falling 60 feet down a lift
shaft on one of his employer’s new container vessels. It was the first time
Courtney Allan 53 from Southampton (sic) who died a day after at the French port
of Le Havre in 2003, had set foot on such a ship, the Palace of Justice heard
yesterday. French authorities are prosecuting OOCL, the ship’s owner, accusing
them of manslaughter by clumsiness, carelessness, inattention, negligence,
breach of duty of care or safety. On September 11th 2001 Mr Allan had been at a
breakfast meeting in the second tower of the World Trade Centre when terrorists
struck. (sic) He escaped covered in debris.”

You will note from this the dearth of factual information relating to the
circumstances of the accident itself.


This is yet another fatality with suspicious overtones posing many intriguing
unanswered questions.

1.       What investigations were carried out by the police or other health and
safety agencies, what were their findings and why was little or no action taken
against individuals or company until, with the persistence of the family, an
investigating magistrate took up the case?

2. Was it established Mr Allan was alone at the time he entered the lift or was
he with others who witnessed what happened? Were such persons all interviewed

3. Was the area in question covered by CCT or elsewhere and were these seized
and examined by police?

4. Why was it necessary for the Allan family to appoint their own engineers and
were their finding corroborated by French experts or did they not provide such?
If accepted as accurate what explanation was provided for the very irregular and
intentional changes that allowed the lift doors to be opened even when the car
was not present, over-riding electronic and mechanical interlocks?

5. Why did OOCL prove un-co-operative and secretive if they had nothing to hide
or if negligent/reckless action was not involved? Why when and by whom were the
identified lift mechanism modifications carried out? What possible reason could
there be for the company to hide or not reveal this information?

6. Why did it take so long to bring a French prosecution? Why did it take so
long to convene a British inquest? Have British authorities been involved in the
investigation in any way and are they satisfied with how it has been handled?


Yet again we have a case of an accidental fatality that raises disturbing
questions as to causes and the way it has been handled. It is one of many that
goes to the root of sinister forces at work in the world, of the inadequacy of
our investigative mechanisms, the way we are dependent on the MSM to keep us
informed – or not as the case may be! In short how much reliance can be placed
in established institutions to protect the citizen, and to bring responsible
parties to justice, particularly if there is high level political or commercial
interests at stake. That is why the details of such cases need to be circulated
as widely as possible. It is one of the few avenues open to the individual
citizen to make those who organise, implement or cover-up such actions think
twice before doing so. The knowledge that every suspicious death will be
thoroughly and professionally investigated is the only reassurance we have that
the same will not happen to ourselves. END.


1.  Suspicious witness deaths see….

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