London’s diplomats were united in mourning following the sudden death of the Czech Ambassador Jan Winkler, who is believed to have succumbed to a heart attack on Monday 16 February.
Tributes to the Ambassador flowed in as diplomats visited the Czech Embassy to sign the book of condolences and to pay their respects to a much admired colleague.
Speaking on behalf of the diplomatic corps, the Dean, Kuwaiti Ambassador Khaled Al-Duwaisan said Ambassador Winkler would be “enormously missed”.
Having worked with Ambassador Winkler for four years, the Dean described him as “a real gentleman, of great integrity and wisdom, who worked successfully and profoundly for the promotion of his own People and Country.”
According to the police, the 51-year-old father of three called 999 at approximately 8.30am, complaining of a suspected heart attack. But paramedics took 50 minutes to access the Ambassador’s high-security residence in Redington Road, Hampstead.
Police were called and officers were preparing to break the door down when a private security firm arrived with keys.
Ambassador Winkler was then rushed to the Royal Free hospital, but apparently suffered cardiac arrest in the ambulance and was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital.
The exact cause of death is not known as the post-mortem examination proved inconclusive. St Pancras coroner Dr Andrew Reid ordered an inquest into the Ambassador’s death, which is the standard legal procedure for an unexplained death in England, but the Czech government invoked diplomatic immunity and requested the return of the Ambassador’s body to Prague.
However, Dr Reid said he was satisfied there were no signs of violence, restraint or assault. “The police attended but there were no suspicious circumstances. We are satisfied that no other State was involved.”
The Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps, Charles Gray, was present at the Royal Air Force Northolt for the repatriation of the remains of the Ambassador on 25 February.
A mourning ceremony with military honours was held at Prague-Kbely airport which was attended by the Winkler family, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, and the office of the President.
The Czech government paid tribute to the Ambassador, saying Mr Winkler was one of the country’s “most significant and respected” diplomats.
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg expressed his deep sorrow at Mr Winkler’s passing, saying his death had “deeply touched” friends and colleagues in the foreign service.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has also sent his condolences to Ambassador Winkler’s family.
The Czech Embassy is in the process of organising a memorial service in memory of Ambassador Winkler which will be attended by Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg.
For the obituary to the Ambassador, with tributes from his colleagues, please click here