Family of tragic backpacker gathers in Leeds for funeral

Janet Southwell (left) attends the funeral of her son, Gareth Huntley, who died in Malaysia a year ago, at Leeds Minster.
Janet Southwell (left) attends the funeral of her son, Gareth Huntley, who died in Malaysia a year ago, at Leeds Minster.
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THE MOTHER of a backpacker from Yorkshire who was found dead in the Malaysian jungle has said she has been “in limbo” since his death a year ago.

Janet Southwell said she still does not know how her son Gareth Huntley died, after his body was found in a pond on Tioman Island on June 4 last year.

The coffin of backpacker Gareth Huntley, who died in Malaysia a year ago, arrives at Leeds Minster for his funeral service.

The coffin of backpacker Gareth Huntley, who died in Malaysia a year ago, arrives at Leeds Minster for his funeral service.

She spoke yesterday as hundreds of Mr Huntley’s friends and family gathered at Leeds Minster for his funeral.

Mrs Southwell said the delay in holding her son’s funeral - which could not be arranged until after post-mortem examinations had taken place - meant she has been unable to grieve properly.

She said: “It’s a year yesterday since he was found. It’s been a horrendous year, it’s so difficult to function and get on with normal everyday things.

“I have not been able to grieve yet. Normally a funeral will take place within a couple of weeks then you can grieve, that just hasn’t happened.

“I’m in limbo. I’m totally in limbo, my life’s been on hold for a year.”

Mrs Southwell added: “I don’t believe it still. We didn’t believe it at the time, even when he was found, it’s hard to get your head around the fact that somebody’s gone when you haven’t seen them.

“A year down the line, emotions are right back to where they were when they told us they’d found him.”

Mr Huntley, 34, disappeared on May 27 last year during a trek to a waterfall on the island, which is off the south-eastern coast of Malaysia’s mainland.

His body was discovered in a pond just yards from a kayak storage shed at the Juara Turtle Project where he had been volunteering, adjacent to a row of cabins used by rescue teams during the search.

Mrs Southwell said post-mortem examination results, from Malaysia and the UK, were inconclusive and she is hoping to get some answers about her son’s death at an inquest in Malaysia later this month.

Mr Huntley, who had lived and went to school in Apperley Bridge, Bradford, and then attended Leeds University, was on a sabbatical from his job in London.

His family mounted a high-profile campaign to intensify a search for him after he failed to return from his trek.

As around 250 people gathered for the funeral, Mrs Southwell and Mr Huntley’s girlfriend, Kit Natariga, comforted each other outside the church.

The family, including Mr Huntley’s two brothers and his father, entered the Minster behind the wicker coffin, which was decorated with sunflowers.

The emotional service began with a rendition of The Beatles’ Here Comes The Sun, played on guitar by one of Mr Huntley’s friends.

Canon Charles Dobbin, who conducted the service, said: “This is a day to confront the reality of Gareth’s death after a year of pain and unrelenting grief, a year without relief because of the lack of certainty of key facts surrounding Gareth’s death.

“After such a year comes this unreal, surreal laying to rest, which, in some ways, is not a laying to rest for so much is unresolved still.”

Describing Mr Huntley, Canon Dobbin said: “In looking at the kind of person Gareth was, maybe we begin to see something too real for death to destroy.

“A talent for friendship, an original way of looking at things, a principled approach to life, a person who had the courage to be different and carry it off.”

Mourners were told of Mr Huntley’s commitment to environmentalism and his “unquenchable curiosity for life.”