By Alexia Evripidou
AFTER nine years of waiting for truthful answers, two mourning parents protested outside the Presidential Palace on Wednesday anticipating yet another inconclusive report on the death of their 26 year old son, whilst demanding an end to lies and cover ups.
Dressed in black, Andriana and Charalambos Nicolaou waited in the sun all day for the Cabinet to give a viable explanation into the death of their son, Athanasios, who was serving in the National Guard in 2005. By 1.45pm, Cabinet Secretary Theodosis Tsiolas met the couple and gave them a transcript of the latest report, which upon going home, the Nicolaous discovered was the exact same with what they were given at the last court session in 2011.
The initial court verdict of suicide has been changed over the years to “not suicide” with “inadequate evidence for criminal activity and probable death as a result of a fall from high up.”
However, the evidence gathered by the mourning parents disputes this verdict and indicates foul play with probable drowning.
Nine years of being taken on an emotional rollercoaster, the couple said they protested at the presidential palace because they wanted to relay the message to everyone that “we will not accept any more cover ups and deceptions. Today it is us, tomorrow it could be you. We want the truth”.
On September 29, 2005, Andriana received the call that all parents dread, that her son had not shown up for duty at Polemidhia barracks in Limassol.
Their son, 26 year old Athanasios, had moved from Australia with his architect’s degree from Melbourne University, to set up a new life and an office in Cyprus. He first had to complete six months of compulsory national service, where he was bullied for the first three months and then sent home in a casket to his mortified parents.
Andriana remembers she received the midday call from the army, informing her that her son was missing and was advised by the army commander not to call the police. By 4pm she rang the police and overheard them mention the location of his abandoned car. The mother rushed to the scene to find her son’s body sprawled on his back, 12km away from the army camp and 30 metres below Alassa Bridge on the road from Limassol to Platres.
After the initial police investigation, state pathologist Panicos Stavrianos told the mother that “Athanasios had probably got dizzy and fallen off the bridge.” The first official report came out later in the court hearing in Limassol 2007, where Judge Marina Papadopoulou declared that “the death looked like a suicide.”
Andriana spent six months fighting to get access to the police photographs and other forensic evidence of the death scene, as she ruled out suicide. She said the photos showed no broken or protruding bones with her son’s mouth surprisingly full of sand, even though he was found lying on his back, which she says went unexplored in the original report.
In 2008, the parents appealed district court decision to the Supreme Court which deduced there was not enough evidence to make a final decision and cancelled the 2007 report stating suicide, with a request for further investigations and a new Court hearing set for 2009.
Over the years, the parents took the police photos and case file to get advice from a criminologist and state pathologists in Greece, as well as a trauma expert from London, all of whom ruled out death by suicide or falling. Judging from the photos and information provided, they concluded that their son was probably drowned and placed there.
Andriana told the Cyprus Mail that “the pathologists from Greece carried out DNA tests on Athanasios’ clothes and found DNA samples from three other unknown people.” She continued, “this information was not in the original 2007 state pathologist’s report” and that the tests were not carried out in the original investigation. The DNA, she argued, could indicate that he was indeed drowned by someone with his body then dumped under the bridge.
The family turned to the judgement of Orpheas Perides, expert pathologist from Athens University, who after studying the evidence, appeared in the 2009 court hearing in Limassol to give evidence. He had said that “if Athanasios had fallen 30 metres from the Alassa, then there would be serious fractures and bones would be protruding from the body in the opposite area of where the body impacted the ground, we are looking at a premeditated crime.” In his statement, Perides said that he ruled out a fall.
Andriana also spoke of the bullying that her son was subject to in the army and his trepidations of reporting them to his superiors. After finally having papers thrown in his face by fellow soldiers, Athanasios filed a complaint to his commanding officer. “This was not long before his death,” said his mother.
Even after hearing the professional witness, the court maintained the initial verdict and that falling from a great height was the cause of death.
Shocked, Andriana went to the Attorney General’s office to request an independent investigation which was granted in 2011. Once again, the report came back inconclusive indicating that though there was evidence, there was not enough to suggest criminal activity and was sent back to the police for re-investigation.
Waiting for two and a half years for the latest report and at the end of their tether, the family recently announced on television that they would protest and show everyone the disturbing photos of their dead son “to let the photos speak for themselves,” said Andriana. This, she said, spurred Wednesday’s invite to the Presidential palace to hear the results directly, where they were eventually handed the exact same 149 page report given to them in 2011.
Andriana told the Cyprus Mail, “there are responsibilities in this case that someone needs to own. Responsibility for the crime of our child, responsibility for the arduous plight we’ve been sent on. If people had done their jobs properly, then we would not be suffering for nine long years.”