Former BBC journalist and United Nations official Jacky Sutton was found dead in a bathroom at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport on Saturday night after reportedly committing suicide. Sutton flew from London to Istanbul before apparently missing her flight to Irbil, Iraq and hanging herself in the restroom shortly afterwards.
Sutton had been working in Irbil in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. CNN reported the death was confirmed by Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Turkish police have released the CCTV footage of Sutton at the airport. Nothing appears to be out of the ordinary.
Anthony Borden, Director of IWPR, told IB Times UK of Sutton:
“Jacky Sutton was a veteran journalist and media development expert, and worked closely with IWPR long before joining us. She spent two years at the BBC World Service in 1998-2000, reporting from Africa and the Middle East as well as in London. She went on to serve with the United Nations in numerous senior roles that took her from Afghanistan and Iran to West Africa and Gaza, and in 2008, Iraq.”
Borden also said several of Sutton’s colleagues will be traveling to Istanbul to talk with U.K. consulate officials and to attempt to speak to Turkish investigators. Indeed, several of Sutton’s friends and co-workers expressed their disbelief via Twitter.
Jane Pearce, Iraq country director for the U.N. World Food Program, tweeted, “Simply don’t believe the news reports.”
Sudipto Mukerjee, Sutton’s former colleague at the U.N. Development Program, tweeted that it was “very difficult” to believe the reports of suicide.
Charlie Winter, a senior researcher at London-based counter-extremism organization Quilliam, said he had just met with Sutton and did not “for 1 second believe” that she committed suicide. “When we met on Monday she was engaging, driven; seemed anything but suicidal.”
The Melbourne, Australia-based International Women’s Development Agency tweeted it would “be seeking answers and calling for urgent action” over Sutton’s death.
Sutton’s family was apparently also initially reluctant to believe the news but seems to have had a change of heart. The Sutton family released a statement explaining their reasons for accepting the suicide ruling.
“The family is satisfied with the investigation undertaken by the Turkish authorities. We were deeply sceptical about initial reports. But based on the evidence we have seen, at this stage we believe that Jacky acted alone,” they said.
The family does welcome the possibility that more information will be discovered and does plan to investigate further.
“There remains the possibility that additional information will come to light. IWPR and the family will be seeking a further assessment from an independent investigative expert in order to confirm the findings once the Turkish investigation is complete,” the statement added.
Although the family is ready to accept the ruling, one of Jacky’s fellow students at the Australian National University believes the subject of her recent work with the IWPR might have something to do with the death. Susan Hutchinson told the Guardian she did not believe Sutton took her own life and mentioned that IWPR and Sutton were recently involved with “work countering the anti-women messaging” of ISIS.
“There is a huge amount of skepticism among those that knew her that she would kill herself after missing a flight. It just doesn’t add up,” Hutchinson stated. A statement from IWPR confirmed that Sutton was working to counter the extremism of the Islamic State:
“Jacky was returning to Iraq full of plans for innovative new work, including projects to counter violent extremism that threatens a country to which she was so committed. Our condolences go out to her family and all those who knew her.”
Fears of impending danger are not unwarranted in Sutton’s line of work. Ammar Al Shahbande, the previous Iraq director for IWPR, was killed in a car bomb attack in Baghdad in May. Regardless of whether or not these same forces had anything to do with Sutton’s death, she seemed to be extremely aware of the looming dangers.
In a write-up about her life for Her Canberra, Sutton wrote “If Daesh (ISIS) wants to attack they will but it will take planning and I won’t be THE target; if the whacko wants to get to heaven he or she will have to contend with armed guards and a choice of targets, and the same with criminal kidnappers – a growth industry in Iraq.”
She also seemed to be weary of giving away too much information about what exactly she was working on. “I won’t be posting on FB too much because there is no point in drawing attention to myself and my colleagues,” she wrote.
Whatever the true cause of Sutton’s death — whether suicide or something more nefarious — the team at Anti Media sends out prayers, blessings, and good vibes to Jacky Sutton’s family and loved ones. This is yet another unfortunate reminder of the hazardous life of a journalist.