Family tell of shock after Gosforth lawyer's death

FAMILY and friends of a North East lawyer are reeling after his death in Yemen.

Roger Stokes, formerly of Gosforth in Newcastle, died after being found injured in his Yemen flat
Roger Stokes, formerly of Gosforth in Newcastle, died after being found injured in his Yemen flat

FAMILY and friends of a North East lawyer are reeling after his death in Yemen.

Roger Stokes, formerly of Gosforth, Newcastle, was found covered in blood in his flat in the troubled Middle Eastern country and died on the way to hospital.

His loved ones are now trying to piece together what happened to the high- flying shipping lawyer as they come to terms with the news.

Mr Stokes’ sister, Helen Williams, last night said the family do not yet know how the 49-year-old came by his injury, though it seemed as if it was “just an awful accident”.

“Roger’s driver had gone to collect him from his flat for work on Sunday morning,” said Mrs Williams, 46.

“He tried for half-an-hour to raise him and when Roger finally came to the door, he was bleeding badly from his head.

“The driver called an ambulance but, out there, it takes a long time for them to come.

“We understand Roger was unconscious by the time it arrived. He was alive when they put him in the ambulance but died on the way to hospital.”

Mr Stokes, who grew up in Heworth, Gateshead, and attended the King’s School in Tynemouth, studied law and economics at Newcastle University and also had a law qualification from Northumbria University.

He worked in the region before his career took him around the globe.

Around 15 years ago he was recruited by Sheikh Tariq Abdullah, who runs one of the oldest and most prestigious law firms in Yemen, dealing mainly in shipping, oil and commerce.

Mr Stokes, who lived alone in the flat overlooking the harbour of the city of Aden, was the only British lawyer in his office.

Nick Tonge, correspondent manager of marine insurers the North of England P&I, said Roger will be hugely missed by the shipping community.

“He was a close friend to many of us,” he said. “Every time he came back to the UK he would always visit the office. A lot of his former colleagues still work here.

“In his professional capacity, he was always helping us out. He was outstanding in his career and we were always picking his brain for advice. Above all he was a thoroughly nice man.”

Yemen, which is bordered by Saudi Arabia and Oman, is split by tribal loyalties. It has become a base for al-Qaida activists following an often violent uprising last year that led to the long-term president’s ousting. The Foreign Office describes the country as volatile and advises against all travel, meaning Mrs Williams and her aunt June Thompson, of Ponteland, will be unable to attend Mr Stokes’ funeral.

Mrs Williams, who lives in Berkshire, said the family had feared for her brother’s safety in Yemen but he took the danger in his stride.

“He was such a laid-back character, he was almost the ideal person to live in a country which was being ripped apart around him,” she said. “The sheikh has told us his family are devastated.”

Mr Stokes, who maintained close friendships in the North East, would try to get home two or three times a year.

Each year he brought over entrants for the English Speaking Union’s International Public Speaking Competition.

Mr Stokes’ death is being investigated by local Yemeni authorities, but it is understood a cause of death has not yet been recorded. The Foreign Office confirmed they are aware of his death.

Mr Stokes’ family plan to arrange a memorial service in the UK and want to get in touch with all his friends and colleagues. Anyone who knew Mr Stokes should contact June on 01661 825953 or Helen on 01344 638690.

In his professional capacity, he was outstanding. Above all he was a thoroughly nice man


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer