A grieving mum has warned of the risks of travelling in southeast Asia after her daughter died when she took over-the-counter medication in Cambodia.
Natalie Jade Seymour, 22, dreamed of adventure and marrying her boyfriend, but instead perished on what was meant to be the trip of a lifetime.
Bedfordshire mum Wendy Bowler has been left reeling once again after an inquest provided few clear answers about daughter Natalie Seymour’s tragic death two years ago.
Natalie was found dead along with her Canadian travelling companion in their hostel in Cambodia, just hours after they fell ill.
A coroner this week recorded an open verdict into the young British backpacker’s death in the country in November 2017, after hearing the girls had bought unknown over-the-counter medication.
Wendy has had to endure graphic images of her daughter’s body being circulated online, and of chasing down jewellery “stolen” from Natalie’s body, followed by an agonising, two-year wait for that in the end yielded few answers.
Wendy, from Shefford, is trying to rebuild her life and decide whether she should pursue any further enquiries.
The mum-of-five went to visit Natalie’s grave at Stotford cemetery yesterday, unsure what she should do next.
“I just sat down and broke down. I cried I just said ‘it’s terrible because I don’t have you’. I don’t have her anymore and the place is empty.”
Wendy and her husband had no idea when they bid farewell to adventurous Natalie two years ago, that their beautiful daughter would return to them in a box.
Wendy’s voice crumbles with grief as she recalls her beautiful daughter’s body arriving home.
“Her belongings came back and we had all these ‘consignments’, and she was listed as a ‘consignment’. And I just thought, God.”
As the two-year anniversary of her death approaches this month, Wendy has detailed the pain of losing her daughter in her warning to other young travellers to be cautious of food hygiene and medication abroad.
The young woman had been made redundant from her accounts job, so she decided she would use the payout to go on holiday with her friend Abbey Gail Amisola.
She purchased a one-way ticket, and didn’t know when she would return home.
She had everything to live for, and was planning to come home to a bright future, Wendy says.
“Her dream was to get married to her boyfriend and have twins. It was all planned. She had it all planned out. He’s still devastated, just really, really devastated.”
Natalie remained in regular contact with her family when she got to Cambodia, excitedly sending them pictures of her travels.
Just six days into their trip, the girls were staying in popular backpacker hostel the Monkey Republic Guesthouse in the Cambodian city of Kampot, when both suddenly became violently ill.
Wendy began receiving messages from Natalie that worried her, but they did not set off serious alarm bells.
Natalie had previously been texting her parents, describing feeling tired from jet-lag and the country’s tropical heat.
Natalie was sending messages to her mum back home describing feeling ill and the pair spoke on the phone.
Her final messages said: ” Mum me and my friend have woken up today being sick and not feeling great at all! What should I do x.”
She added: “[I] have really bad chest pain”
Wendy replied, wondering whether her daughter had food poisoning: “That’s prob from being sick, drink plenty of water, what did you eat yesterday? X”
Tragically, Natalie would never reply.
The coroner’s inquest in Hatfield on Tuesday was told how the girls had become rapidly unwell at the hostel.
Other backpackers brought them food and drink as their conditions deteriorated.
But because of the hostel’s remote location there was no hospital nearby.
Natalie’s phone was examined by the Cambodian authorities and it was found in the hours leading up to her death she had been carrying out Google searches about vomiting.
One entry found said “vomiting so much I have chest pains.”
Another said “My belly is cramping, but I don’t feel sick. It’s weird – what is going on.”
She was concerned about the colour of what she was bringing up – yellow and dark green.
She had told her mum she and her friend might go out to get something to make them better.
In a detail Wendy had never heard before, the inquest was told a local village and had taken Natalie in a car to a doctor.
However by the time she arrived she was unconscious and she was brought back to the hostel, staff found Natalie and Abbey Gail, 27, dead.
Wendy was at the inquest this week to hear many details of her daughter’s death for the first time.
After Natalie’s body was returned to the UK, Hertfordshire police found no evidence of “ foul play”.
A post mortem was also performed on Natalie’s body, and the inquest was told that sample of Natalie’s blood that had accompanied her remains back to the UK could not be tested because there was no proper labelling on the vials.
Tissue and fluid sample obtained in the UK provided no “significant toxicological” findings.
The inquest was told an examination of Natalie’s liver showed evidence of small droplets of fat being present which indicated the possibility of “drug toxicity.”
An expert told the court this was sometimes seen as a result of taking over-the-counter medication like paracetamol or anti-convulsants.
The coroner was told that when the inquest was first opened into Natalie’s death in 2018, the cause of her death couldn’t be determined and was recorded as “unascertainable.”
Dr Rajiv Smamy, who carried out the post mortem examination, this week said he found a significant “toxic pathology within the liver.”
He told the court “idiopathic hepatotoxic micro vesicular steatosis” was Natalie’s cause of death
Coroner Geoffrey Sullivan recorded an open verdict.
Now, Wendy and her family are left picking up the pieces, wondering whether it will help them in their grief to continue asking questions about Natalie’s death.
While Wendy accepts over-the-counter medication her daughter may have taken for food poisoning likely explains the tragedy, she remains troubled by the new details that emerged in the inquest.
Many backpackers who had seen Natalie that night had reached out to Wendy after the tragedy.
Before the inquest, she had begun to get in touch with them, feeling hungry for any information that could help her understand what happened to her daughter.
She was told that that other young backpackers had tried to look after the girls. At some point into the night, she recalls being told Natalie had been taken in a tuktuk to look for help.
So Wendy was particularly struck by the claim detailed at the inquest that a villager had tried to take Natalie to a doctor in a car, and then turned back, and has been left wanting to know more.
Speaking after the hearing this week, Wendy said: “She was driven to the doctor and was unconscious and he sent her back to the hostel. Why wouldn’t you have sent somebody who is unconscious to the clinic, to the hospital? If anybody was in that state? Something doesn’t ring right.”
“That detail jumped out at me. I’m thinking that really hurt me because you sent her back to the hostel to die. She died.”
The past two years have been hard on Wendy and her family.
Almost immediately after the news broke of Natalie’s death, graphic photographs of her daughter’s body had begun circulating online in Cambodian media and spreading on Facebook .
Her relatives rushed to get posts showing the girls’ bodies and clear pictures of their travel documents stripped down, but Wendy had already seen them.
She recalls of that harrowing period: “It was the shock- because some of my relatives tried to get them to take the pictures off. But that’s the way they do it. And their passports, all their information in the passports- I thought ‘you just don’t put these on social media’.”
However Wendy reflects how viewing the pictures gave her proof that items were missing from her daughter’s body.
“On reflection I’m glad I did see them because they stole jewellery. Her belly bar and rings- I saw them on her body… Who would steal from a dying person’s body?”
She is not clear when the jewellery was taken or by whom.
However some months after Natalie’s death, her daughter’s insurance company managed to trace the jewellery, and Khmer Police were able to return the special keepsakes to the family.
The popular young women now has a bench at a park in Stotfold she played in as a child dedicated to her.
It was installed in Natalie’s memory thanks to the generosity of her friends and local community.
Wendy still feels guilt that she didn’t tell her daughter to go to a hospital, even though the inquest emphasised that there was no local hospital in the village, and the closest one was two hours away.
She hopes that sharing Natalie’s story will encourage other families to be aware of the risks when travelling abroad.
Wendy has urged young backpackers to check whether they might be confronted with poor hygiene or counterfeit medications in the countries they are travelling to, and to seek advice before they leave the UK.
Wendy says: “I just want to put it out there everyone, please be careful what you’re taking in these countries because what you think may be paracetamol could be different over there.”
Part of Wendy’s journey through grieving now means packing away Natalie’s bedroom.
“I’ve taken a lot of her things out because I it was looking like a blimmin’ shrine, and I can’t do that with the grandchildren always coming round to stay with me.”
She has loving memories of Natalie: “She was full of life. We live just around the corner from my eldest daughter and she was always going around there to see the children, my grandchildren.
“They are devastated. She was a big part of their lives and she was a fun, lovely girl. It’s been just horrible.”
Wendy also feels sorrow for Amelia Bambridge’s family, saying she had watched with sickening familiarity this week as another British family lost their girl travelling in Cambodia.
It remains unclear what happened to Amelia, who was last seen at a party on the island of Koh Rong before her body was found 30 miles at sea.
Authorities in the Cambodia have said there was no evidence of foul play, and a post mortem found Amelia died by drowning.
Wendy says her thoughts are with the Bambridges, after losing her beloved Natalie.
“Oh God, I know what they are going through. It’s heartwrenching. I’ve never been the same since she died.
“A part of me died with her. Trying to just deal with each day, go back to work. All I want is to see her and she’ll never, ever come back.