Controversial Chinese murder trial ends after one day
1:38pm Thursday 9th August 2012 in News
The secretive trial of a disgraced Chinese politician's wife accused of murdering a Battersea man has ended after just one day.
Gu Kailai, 53, appeared in court today in Hefei, a city in the remote Chinese province of Anhui, charged with murdering businessman Neil Heywood who was killed last November.
But the trial ended within hours and if found guilty Mrs Gu, wife of former communist party secretary Bo Xilai, could face 10 years in jail or the death penalty.
Mrs Gu, who has been described a China's Jackie Kennedy, was joined in the dock by her butler Zhang Xiaojun, 33, who is also accused of Mr Heywood's murder.
The father-of-two, 41, was found poisoned in a hotel room in Chongqing province on November 14 last year, although the British authorities and his family were initially told he had died from drinking too much alcohol.
But subsequent reports stated that he was held down and forced to drink cyanide by Mr Zhang.
Mr Heywood's death triggered the downfall of Mr Bo, 62, in a scandal that rocked Chinese politics when police first linked Mrs Gu to his death.
It was also suggested in the Chinese media that the former Battersea resident had been having an affair with Mr Gu while helping her to siphon nearly £800m of assets overseas.
The trial has raised suspicion in the West and on China's microblogs because of its location in Hefei - 600 miles south of Beijing and even further from the crime scene in Chongqing.
Some UK media organisations have described the hearing as the most "politically significant" case, since the trial of Mao Zedong's wife Jiang Qing in 1976 because of the impact it could have.
Every 10 years there is a transfer of power to a new generation of leaders in the Chinese Communist Party and Mr Bo had been hotly tipped for promotion in this autumn's shake-up.
But following his wife's arrest Mr Bo was suspended from the party and is under investigation for "serious disciplinary violations".
After his death, Mr Heywood was described by friends as a "charming but elusive" character who had become embroiled in Chinese high society.
One friend told the Wall Street Journal that, the day before his death, the Briton confessed he was "in trouble" and had been summoned to Chongqing by representatives of Mr Bo.
During his youth Mr Heywood lived in South Lodge, a large stately home, in Latchmere Road with his mother Anne, sister Leonie and father Peter - who died from a heart attack in 2004. In December last year, a funeral was held for him at St Mary's Church in Battersea which was attended by more than 100 people. The result of the trial will be announced at a later unconfirmed date.