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Deceased Phuket expat’s body stuck in hospital due to passport mix-up




In a nightmarish scenario, a deceased Phuket expat’s body is stuck in a Thai hospital as his step‐daughter claims hospital administrators won’t release the body due to a passport mix‐up.

Gemma Swift, the step‐daughter of 75 year old David Donoghue, who died 2 weeks ago, says she is pleading with embassy staff in Thailand to resolve, what she says, is purely an administrative issue after Donoghue’s passport number at the hospital was from that of an expired one.

Donoghue’s current passport was on file with the British Embassy, but because it did not match what the hospital had, his body has remained at the hospital. Swift says it was something that could easily be corrected and the situation was “horrendous” for the family.

“The British Embassy over in Bangkok, they said that because [the number] was from his current passport, they were unable to change the letter. They have said that they won’t reissue a letter with the passport number that he’s got in the hospital with him.”

She said her family planned to arrange a funeral for him in Thailand, then bring his ashes back to the UK. As he retired to Phuket 15 years ago, her family would then take his ashes back to Thailand, as per his wishes, to scatter them.

However, none of his family members were able to travel to Thailand to be with Donoghue in his final days, as the mandatory 14 day quarantine period upon entering Thailand, would not have allowed them to see him.

“I thought this was a basic human right to be able to give somebody a funeral and I accept that there is always going to be red tape…but please just issue a letter and let us bring him home.”

She said before Covid-19, family members travelled often to Phuket to visit Donoghue, who once worked for the Thai tourist police. She says the entire ordeal has been heartbreaking as her family was unable to say goodbye.

“That on its own was heart breaking, and now to get this two weeks later, to find out we can’t give him a funeral, or get his ashes back, it’s just horrendous.”

“It’s like being on autopilot… once we know we have done everything we can, we can start the grieving process, but at the minute we can’t.”

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson said they are assisting Donoghue’s family during the difficult time.

“Our staff are in contact with the local hospital and funeral director to help his family obtain the necessary paperwork to ensure his body is treated in line with their wishes.”

If the situation isn’t fixed, Donoghue’s body will join a mass cremation at the hospital.



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  1. Avatar


    Wednesday, March 3, 2021 at 11:12 am

    Show your three fingers, tear down the Drowning Street.

  2. Avatar


    Wednesday, March 3, 2021 at 11:48 am

    Waiting for tea money.

  3. Avatar


    Wednesday, March 3, 2021 at 11:53 am

    This shows the pure incompetence of the officials and their buerocracy. To be not able to handle new and old passport number shows their absolute failure in managing a country or offices. It is a matter of a few minutes to fix it in the developped world. Talking about a digital revolution in Thailand but manage their officil offices like 150 years ago in Europe

  4. Avatar


    Wednesday, March 3, 2021 at 12:03 pm

    dont worry, they will still charge the farang family good amounts of the morgue’s stay, they found what they needed to keep the body for ridiculous reasons

  5. Avatar

    Toby Andrews

    Wednesday, March 3, 2021 at 12:15 pm

    The Thais are keeping the body on the spurious excuse that the paperwork is not in order.
    To MAKE money!
    Can nobody see that?
    I hope the body is refrigerated.
    All the family have to do is state. We are not paying you another baht.
    We are not paying anything we owe you, until the body is released.
    See how quick the Thais give up the body then.

  6. Avatar

    Colin G

    Wednesday, March 3, 2021 at 12:20 pm

    British Embassy – sadly, in my 25 years of living outside the UK, spread across the Middle East and Asia, only once have I found staff to be helpful (and then only as the lady concerned was a friend of my wife).

    Surely all they have to do is issue a letter that confirms the deceased person to “have held passport number XXXXXXXXX prior to his current document” or words to that effect. Not an intellectual challenge, I would have thought…..

  7. Avatar


    Wednesday, March 3, 2021 at 2:39 pm

    He like his passport is expired so what’s the problem? Amazing (not) Thailand. Another black mark against Thailand. After living here for 15 yrs and supporting the Thai economy this is how he is treated.
    Also amazing (not) the British embassy will not help.
    My sympathy goes out to the family.

  8. Avatar


    Wednesday, March 3, 2021 at 3:06 pm

    I am not surprised.

  9. Avatar


    Wednesday, March 3, 2021 at 3:52 pm

    If Thailand really wants to invite foreigners these things should not happen its completely unacceptable, recentely the land of smiles is getting more media on killings, accidents, protests and lockdown, border closing etc… which is not healthy for tourism need to change its like thai community issues is blown up, mental issues, suicides, monks on drugs wake up thailand

  10. Avatar


    Wednesday, March 3, 2021 at 4:11 pm

    A lesson to us all keep passport records updated with family and local exec I toro for will if we have one. A close friend recently died in Phuket in November in fact local UK Consul, Embassy in BKK and Thai authorities were extremely efficient especially as his family could not get here. He had a dignified cremation and his ashes are back in the UK. Not sure exactly why is always the fault of the Thai’s , they just do things by the book.

  11. Avatar


    Wednesday, March 3, 2021 at 4:14 pm

    A lesson to us all keep passport records updated with family and local executor of will if we have one, seems odd that the sadly deceased gave hospital his out of date passport number!! A close friend recently died in Phuket in November in fact local UK Consul, Embassy in BKK and Thai authorities were extremely efficient especially as his family could not get here. He had a dignified cremation and his ashes are back in the UK. Not sure exactly why is always the fault of the Thai’s , they just do things by the book.

  12. Avatar

    Issan John

    Wednesday, March 3, 2021 at 5:11 pm

    Yes, Colin G, you would have thought that wasn’t exactly beyond the abilities of the British or any other Embassy.

    Particularly since, whether they want to or not, hospitals and undertakers aren’t allowed to release a foreigner’s body without authority from the Embassy which doesn’t seem unreasonable …

    … but no, of course, it’s all the Thais’ fault …..

  13. Avatar


    Wednesday, March 3, 2021 at 6:57 pm

    As the family member who was dealing with my dads death in Thailand I can confirm that David Donoghue’s funeral took place on the 03 March 2021 at 3 pm his body was released from the hospital and David had a dignified funeral

  14. Avatar

    Issan John

    Wednesday, March 3, 2021 at 9:37 pm

    Maverick, according to other reports he took his old (expired) passport with him to the hospital by mistake.

    All that was needed was the routine letter from the Embassy authorising the hospital to release the body, with a brief note that his old / expired passport (#XXXXX) had been replaced by a new one (#YYYYY).

    … but according to the family the British Embassy refused to write a second letter, so now (at least according to some here) it’s all the hospital’s fault and “unacceptable”, “another black mark against Thailand”, “to MAKE money”, “ridiculous reasons”, etc, because they’re doing exactly what Embassies have previously insisted they do so that they’ve given Thai hospitals no legal choice.


  15. Avatar


    Thursday, March 4, 2021 at 4:24 am

    The bureaucracy is truly amazing and that coupled with the corruption will ensure Thailand stays a developing nation. India is similar and China is trying to leave it behind. I usually try and see the positives in people first but this story sounds like a play for a payoff.

  16. Avatar

    Issan John

    Thursday, March 4, 2021 at 10:07 am

    What “bureaucracy”, Ben?

    All hospitals and morgues here need to release any foreigner’s body is a letter from their embassy, nothing else – that was introduced decades ago after embassies insisted on it.

    I’ve arranged it, more than once unfortunately, for friends, and it couldn’t be simpler and is entirely up to the respective embassy to action.

    It has nothing to do with whether Thailand is a “developing nation” or not, as it’s purely up to the embassies – they insisted on the policy and on taking the responsibility for releasing foreigners’ bodies.

    If there are any delays they’re down to the embassies, nobody else – certainly not the hospitals or “Thailand”.

    The only “play for a payoff” I’ve come across and was involved in trying to resolve was by the Swiss Embassy here, which was way beyond disgraceful.

    The Swiss Embassy refused to sign the papers to release the body of a naturalised Swiss citizen (ex-Singaporean) here until her Singaporean relatives had re-paid the Embassy for expenses the Embassy had paid, which her relatives couldn’t afford (they never asked her Swiss in-laws).

    The Embassy only eventually agreed to sign the release form when the hospital told the Embassy that if they didn’t agree to sign the letter allowing them to release the body then it would be included in a mass cremation, and the Embassy were told the media would be informed.

    AFAIK this was a bluff on the part of the hospital to push the Embassy to sign, as I’ve never heard of any such “mass cremations” here and when I asked the hospital they had no actual details.

    The Swiss Embassy’s “play for payoff” delayed the release of the body for a fortnight, until her relatives could have the funeral for her they’d flown over for.

    The responsibility is entirely the embassies’, nobody else’s, whether it’s a “play for payoff” as in the case of the Swiss Embassy or they just couldn’t be bothered to write a second letter, in the case of the British Embassy here.

    … but, of course, it’s all the Thais’ fault …

  17. Avatar

    David Mann

    Thursday, March 4, 2021 at 2:37 pm

    I have to agree with IJ on this one. The hospital and Thai authorities are doing exactly what the embassy’s have insisted on. It’s the Brits who need to get their act together here in my view.
    That said, and as sad as this is for the family concerned, it should serve as a reminder for all expats across the world. It amazes me how many people I know who don’t even keep contact telephone numbers up to date with family back home or wife’s and partners in their adopted country. Making sure your affairs are in order and making it easy for family locally and in your home country is one of the kindest and most sensible things you can do. The pain and trouble it can cause when you die to your loved ones is unfair and at a time when they are least able to deal with it. Don’t put these things off and sort it out now!

  18. Avatar

    Mr cynic

    Friday, March 5, 2021 at 12:58 am

    The british embassy being uncooperative and incompetent will come as zero suprise to any british citizen who has ever had to deal with them for any reason.

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Ann Carter is an award-winning journalist from the United States with over 12 years experience in print and broadcast news. Her work has been featured in America, China and Thailand as she has worked internationally at major news stations as a writer and producer. Carter graduated from the Walter Williams Missouri School of Journalism in the USA.

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