LONDON – Japan removed one of its diplomats from Britain in the mid-1970s after the possibility he could be charged with causing the death of a woman by dangerous driving, official papers in the British National Archives recently revealed.
The diplomat, Setsuo Matsuzawa, a first secretary at the embassy in London, denied the accusation in police interviews. But Tokyo decided he should return home and its embassy pay compensation to the victim’s family, the documents claim.
Papers from 1974 show prosecutors believed there was strong evidence against Matsuzawa and the Foreign Office was preparing to ask the Japanese ambassador to waive the diplomat’s immunity.
However, knowing such a request was imminent, Tokyo decided a few months after the accident to “transfer” Matsuzawa back to Japan, thereby avoiding a potentially embarrassing court case.
Under the law covering diplomatic privilege, Britain was powerless to stop Matsuzawa’s departure.
The papers also indicate that although Britain would have pressed for a waiver of diplomatic immunity, officials were worried Japan might “lose face” if such action was taken. Foreign Office officials also did not want Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Japan in 1975 — the first by a British monarch to Japan — to be marred by the issue.
According to police documents, Matsuzawa’s car pulled out of its lane on a single carriageway road and hit the oncoming car in which Jill Hassall, 23, a passenger, and her husband, Robin, were traveling.
The accident happened on a rainy evening in Kent, a county near London, on Nov. 2, 1974, and the woman is believed to have died instantly. The couple were trapped in their vehicle for around 1 1/2 hours before being taken to a hospital.
Eyewitnesses told police that the Toyota driven by Matsuzawa moved over into the wrong lane just before the head-on crash.
Police stated there was “sufficient evidence to substantiate the offense of causing death by dangerous driving.” They also served a “notice of prosecution” on Matsuzawa.
Robin Hassall, 31, told police that the Toyota was traveling directly toward his car in the wrong lane in excess of 80 kph and could not pull back into the correct lane because of dense traffic. He said the Toyota’s lights were on full beam.
A woman who was traveling behind Matsuzawa said his car veered across the center line several times before the crash.
Matsuzawa, then 38, had only been working in the country since March and his responsibilities at the embassy included shipping and air travel. He had been returning with a colleague from the coastal city of Dover.
Matsuzawa, who suffered minor injuries, told officers he had consumed one glass of wine that day but they judged he was not drunk.
A jury returned a verdict of “accidental death” at an inquest in April 1975.