A British mother fighting to bring her son’s body home after he died in a motorbike crash in Vietnam has said she fears he could be cremated without her permission.
Denver Barfield, 24, and a British woman died in the city of Hoi An early on Monday morning when their bike crashed into a power pole on the side of the road, local police said.
His mother, Debsy Clayton, said she is being “pestered” by a man claiming to be a Vietnamese coroner for payment to get his body back home, with an initial bill of $ 12,500 (£ 10,000).
She fears her son’s body will be cremated if they do not pay the bill soon.
When she stopped replying to the messages she was sent graphic images of her son’s body after the accident.
British police came to her house in Leicestershire to tell her of her son’s death. “I was absolutely hysterical when they told me what happened,” she told Sky News.
“And then I started getting messages on WhatsApp asking me what I wanted to do with his body.”
She was told it would be “at least $ 12,500” to bring her son home, with extra costs for embalming, storing his body and handling his belongings.
“We were told it would be cheaper if we wanted them to cremate him and ship his ashes home, but I started panicking because I want him to come home whole,” Ms Clayton said, getting emotional.
“They kept messaging me and messaging me, I am so scared they are going to do something to my son’s body.”
Mr Barfield had taken out travel insurance, which the family has said should cover the costs, but they do not know the details of his policy.
“I told the man I was trying to sort it out with insurance,” Ms Clayton said. “But the man told me it will take too long and I should pay the bill up front and claim the cost back later.”
The police told her not to respond, but she says the coroner has continued to message her, saying “the longer you take to make a decision, the more the cost will rise”.
Ms Clayton described her son as a “true gentleman”, saying: “He was a beautiful young man, and I was so proud of him.”
Trip of a lifetime before new job
Mr Barfield’s close friend Harri Stavrou set up a JustGiving page in his memory to help bring his body home.
He described the Aston University graduate as “full of life”, saying: “Anyone who met him just loved him instantly.”
The site, set up less than 24 hours ago, has raised more than £ 20,000.
The 24-year-old had planned to spend three months traveling Asia before starting a new job and had been in Thailand before Vietnam.
“He had such a bright future ahead of him, I know he would have smashed that job in London,” he said.
Mr Stavrou, who has known Mr Barfield since he was 14, told Sky News: “No mother should have to bury their son.
“And immediately she began getting messages from a coroner demanding money.”
He continued: “Denver was ill with COVID about a year and a half ago, and during that time I had to go pick up his prescription and do the shopping for his mum.
“I promised him then I would look after his mother for him – and I hope I have made him proud.
“It’s all for you, brother.”
‘My legs turned to jelly’
Mr Stavrou said he first heard about his friend’s death through a text from another friend.
“I immediately texted Denver because I just could not believe it was true,” he said.
“Then my phone started ringing with a call from his mother. My legs turned to jelly because I knew what she was going to tell me.”
Mr Stavrou said the details of Denver’s accident are still unclear. “We do not know who was driving the bike, or what happened,” he said.
“Regardless of whether we know or not, it does not take away the tragedy from what happened. But for his mum and sister, I think it will give them some peace to know exactly what happened.”
The thousands raised to help bring Mr Barfield home were a testament to “how much people loved him”, he said.
“I do not think his mum expected we would smash the target so quickly, but it just shows how much Denver was held in high regard by everyone.”
He added: “Denver had a heart full of gold, he was always joking around, telling jokes and he was hands down the best storyteller on the planet – and when he concentrated for some reason he would stick his tongue out, I’m not sure why he did it but it made us laugh.
“Every time you saw Denver you knew you would be in hysterics listening to him all night.”