Children traumatised after hero policeman dies in freak accident in Thailand
The heartbroken father of a heroic former police officer who died in a freak accident in Southeast Asia has told how his son's young children found his lifeless body lying outside the family home.
Belfast native Heath Taylor (50) - a friend of PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton, whom he met for lunch only a few weeks ago - had been living on the Thai holiday island of Koh Pha Ngan with his partner Daao, who's in her late 20s, and their children Finn (8), Erin (6) and Rory (4) for the best part of a decade.
His 91-year-old dad Bill Taylor revealed that Heath, an ex-bar owner and house-husband, had been planning to get married to Daao and bring his family over to live in Northern Ireland before the awful tragedy struck last Friday.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph from his home in the east of the city, Mr Taylor, a former chief executive of the Police Authority, said his youngest son - who once earned a citation for his work as a young officer, but had to retire from the force because of injury - lived for and adored his children, who called him 'Papa'.
"The day he died, the kids were at school and Daao, who's a cook, was out working," he said.
"He had two big dogs and they were fighting each other.
"Heath intervened and was struggling to get them apart but he fell down some steps, hit his head on a stone step, and that killed him.
"The children came home from school and they found his body.
"They were absolutely traumatised by what they saw."
He added: "It was just such a tragic accident."
The children ran for help to a neighbour, who alerted the authorities, but there was nothing that could be done to save Heath, whose mother June died from a debilitating illness six years ago, aged 79.
"Heath was devastated by his mother's death," said Bill.
"Sadly, it was gradual. Alzheimer's is a horrible disease."
Bill, a grandfather-of-nine and great-grandfather-of-one who studied at Oxford University and then worked for the Ministry of Commerce, said his family was still trying to come to terms with Heath's sudden death a few days ago, which shattered their world.
He explained that Heath, the youngest of his four children, had remained close to his wife Karen Molloy, from whom he was separated and in the process of divorcing.
He said it was she who broke the dreadful news about the tragedy that had occurred on the other side of the world. Bill Taylor was at his Belmont home with daughter Karen (61) - an educational programme director who lives in New York but is here on holiday this week - when his daughter-in-law unexpectedly arrived at the door.
As Heath's sister Karen explained: "She was terrified dad would find out accidentally.
"She thought my father was going to be here by himself and she wanted to come round to deliver the news in person."
Fighting back tears, Karen also revealed that her other brother Dwayne (54), a merchant banker, and sister Nicola (59), a teacher, both of whom live in England, are meeting her in London today prior to the trio travelling on to Thailand for their brother's cremation on Saturday.
"It's going to be heartbreaking because it will be confronting the reality that he's really gone," said Karen.
Bill Taylor said that Heath was a wonderful person who went straight into the RUC as a cadet in 1982 after leaving Campbell College.
"He was terribly bright and likeable; he had so many friends, all of whom are now devastated," said Bill, a past president of the Old Campbellian Society.
Karen added: "Heath was very good-natured, very laid-back and he had a very warm personality. People were truly very fond of him.
"His solicitor, whom he often visited when he was home, told us he was the absolute hit of the office."
She said that her youngest brother's partner and children are "beside themselves" with grief.
"It's so hard for them to lose Heath," she said. "The children just adored him."
Bill, who served in the Second World War, revealed that Heath received a citation as a serving officer. Although he had to retire due to an injury sustained in the line of duty, he missed the police and still retained some of the bonds he had made in the force.
"He was friendly with the Chief Constable George Hamilton (below) and they had lunch together when Heath was home from Thailand about six weeks ago," he said.
"Heath was very pleased to see George again."
And the former civil servant also recalled the incident which ultimately forced him into premature retirement.
"Heath was very badly injured and had to leave the RUC about nine years ago," said Bill.
"He and another officer were on duty when a girl was assaulted.
"The other constable stayed to look after the woman while Heath went after the guy who had done it.
"The perpetrator broke into a house and Heath followed him upstairs, all the way to the attic. They struggled in the attic and the floor broke and they both fell down through it.
"At least Heath arrested the guy, but he had bad neck injuries as a result of the incident and that's how he ended up leaving the police and going out to Thailand to live."
Heath, whose middle name is Macartney, paid what would be his last visit back to Belfast six weeks ago.
"He came home by himself for a friend's wedding and stayed for three weeks," he said.
"We went out together, played a bit of golf; did everything together.
"But he was also back last year for my 90th birthday and we had a big party at Royal Belfast Golf Club for 145 people.
"The whole family was over and Heath brought his three kids and Daao over from Thailand for it."
Once he had installed himself in Thailand, the former RUC man built an Irish-themed pub - The Harp Bar.
Heath sold the business last year so that he could concentrate on looking after his children and family life.
Bill said he last visited his son in his adoptive home three years ago, but added that Heath always returned to his roots once a year.
"He was planning to come back to Northern Ireland for good next year with the family for the kids' education," he revealed.
Sitting in the front room of their detached house in a leafy Belfast street, both father and daughter said their hearts have been lifted by the number of messages of sympathy and compassion that have come their way since they learned the traumatic news.
"We've been so touched by the outpouring of support and love from friends and family in Northern Ireland and also from his large contingent of international friends; everyone has been so lovely," said Karen.
Bill, who suffered a heart attack 31 years ago and wrote a book about his experience and the people he met in hospital, said that he is devastated that he is unable to say a final farewell to Heath in person this weekend.
He said: "Unfortunately, I'm past travelling. I'm very sad indeed that I can't be there."