Britain and Germany in death certificate tug of war over expat who died in UK airspace

A row has erupted over the death certificate of a man who died in UK airspace, as the British and German authorities each claim the other is responsible for producing it.

Robert Firth, a British expat living in Malta, died in a German-registered air ambulance while being flown back to the UK for specialist treatment in Cambridge on July 15 this year.

However, the family of the 76-year-old has been unable to obtain his death certificate for the last five months as the British and German authorities are claiming that each other has jurisdiction and should therefore provide it.

They are now facing a fine of almost £13,000 by Malta’s government if they have not completed the causa mortis legal process by January 15, six months after the death. 

His children are also left in limbo when it comes to settling his inheritance, and have not yet held a funeral.

Miranda, Mr Firth’s eldest child and next of kin, who lives in Cambridge, told The Telegraph: "We feel abandoned and let down by the UK government. It’s ridiculous and cruel for us to be left with no death certificate for so long. 

"Every day for months now, I am forced to recount and relive July 15 all to beg for a one-page form that takes fifteen minutes to fill out. And it’s just baffling to me why no one in the government is doing it for us.

"Many days I have just wanted to give up, a few I couldn’t get out of bed and cried all day. I have been knocked back so many times now that eventually I just won’t be able to get back up again. I just want it to end so we can close our father’s affairs, then we can actually think about a funeral. 

"I don’t have a lot of money so my siblings have sent money to pay for my father’s cremation and urn, and to pay his bills. With no death certificate the bank in Malta won’t even tell us if my father has an account, much less access it to pay these costs that normally would come from the relative’s estate.

"I am really hoping for help from Priti Patel and that some kind of process and training is put in place by the UK Government so that no other grieving families have to go through this."

Robert Firth moved to the Maltese island of Gozo in 2018 after retiring as a software engineering lecturer

Credit: Photolibrary.com

Mr Firth, a widow originally from Manchester, was a professor at the Royal Military College of Science. He retired as a software engineering lecturer and moved to the Maltese island of Gozo in 2018. 

He became unwell at the end of June and was taken to Gozo Hospital, but needed dialysis to survive. 

Ms Firth organised for Flight Medic UK, a medical repatriation firm she located on the British Consulate website, to transport him to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. Mr Firth passed away in UK airspace while flying over Kent. 

Ms Firth was told by the UK authorities that she needed to apply for a German death certificate, as the aircraft Mr Firth died on was registered to Germany. 

The British Consulate in Germany said that deaths which occur on foreign-registered aircraft must be registered by that country, in accordance with The Registration of Overseas Births and Deaths Regulations 2014. 

"If the authorities in the country of the foreign registered aircraft are refusing to issue a local certificate, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) should be approached for assistance. The CAA may be able to issue a certificate if none is forthcoming from the local authorities," the official said. 

Ms Firth contacted the CAA, but they directed her back to the German authorities. 

"Unfortunately, the jurisdiction of the UK CAA to issue a death certificate would only be for a UK registered aircraft," an official said. 

The General Register Office in the UK, part of the Home Office, added: “There is currently no provision for the death to be registered by the CAA if the aircraft was not registered in the UK and in such cases, the death should be registered by the country where the aircraft is registered." 

However, officials from civil registration offices in Berlin, Cologne and Hamburg separately claimed it is the UK’s responsibility to produce the death certificate, as Mr Firth passed away in UK territory. 

In correspondence seen by The Telegraph, officials told Ms Firth that, according to German law, someone’s place of death when carried by air ambulance is determined by when they left the aircraft, which was in Cambridge. 

A spokesperson for the UK Foreign Office said: "We are supporting the family of a British man who died on a flight to the UK. Our thoughts are with them at this difficult time.”

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