KHAN DO ATTITUDE
Oliver Gobat was a go-getter and respected businessman in Adelaide and abroad. Three years ago he was mysteriously murdered in the Caribbean but now, his family believe, there is new hope of a breakthrough
An SA horseman will battle mozzies, fatigue and pain in a 1000km race on Genghis Khan’s postal route.
As members of Adelaide’s newest, and most exclusive, health club filed through the doors from War Memorial Drive, a charming young foreigner at the counter brightened their mood. Ollie Gobat was a well-educated, sportsobsessed Brit in his early 20s who sought adventure Down Under in the late 1990s – in a city with strong links to his family.
Working seven days a week, he quickly made his mark in what was then a niche market, the first health club of its kind in Australia owned by former professional tennis players David Lloyd and John Alexander. “He was very smart, he was a hard worker, he had his head screwed on and he was ambitious,” says Alexander, 65, a former Australian great of the 1970s and ’80s and now a Federal Liberal MP. “He was a young bloke but I knew that whatever he ended up doing he would be very successful.”
Tragically, that promise would only be partly realised, when his life was cut short before his 40th birthday – having already cheated death twice. Gobat was murdered on the Caribbean island of St Lucia on April 25, 2014, possibly shot in the head before being doused in fuel and his Range Rover torched. While there have been no breakthroughs in the case to date, his family now believe new moves to allow a joint St Lucia-British investigation could yet lead to justice for their son.
Oliver Benjamin Gobat was born on the tropical island of St Lucia on November 17, 1975, the youngest of three boys to hoteliers, Melbourne-born Helen, 69, and her British husband Theo, 78. The family, including brothers Rufus, 47, and Adam, 44, returned in 1979 to Esher, Surrey, southwest London, where their “fine athlete” of a sibling “succeeded at every sport he tried” from cricket, athletics to rugby and tennis.
His sporting prowess – including as a star Surrey County Cricket Club junior – landed him a scholarship at the top private Kings College School, Wimbledon. But it was a knock to the ribs, aged 13, that began a yearlong cancer nightmare after a painful lump was discovered to be a tumour. There were 17 admissions to hospital – including 12 rounds of chemotherapy, major surgery to remove a rib, and at least five re-admissions for infection complications.
Through the gruelling treatment, his distressed parents tried everything to keep his spirits alive but sport was banned, except golf. He played with English golfer Sir Nick Faldo and popular television entertainer Sir Bruce Forsyth at the Surrey-based Wentworth course shortly before the sportsman won the 1990 British Open at St Andrews, Scotland.
Gobat’s charm was evident when Royal Marsden cancer hospital nurses found him a bed outside his treatment plan so he could meet the late Diana, Princess of Wales. His mother recalls: “She was beautiful and sensitive. Ollie, of course, reminded her he had met her when a ball boy for a charity event.” He was nicknamed Simba the Lion on the ward, for his strength and wisdom, and took on a new zest after beating cancer. Celebrating his second chance, his life would be punctuated with sporting and business success, earning him friends in high places, and global respect.
Graduating from Leeds University, he moved to Dundee, Scotland, where he met former British Davis Cup captain David Lloyd, 69. Lloyd, whose son, Scott, went to school with Gobat, encouraged an Adelaide move to help establish its leading health club for him.
Gobat’s grandparents, Bill and Ruth Turnbull, hailed from SA, and their ancestors gave North Adelaide land on which to build St Peter’s Cathedral, while other family live locally.
Next Generation opened in November 1999, a $16 million club billed as the ultimate combination of sports training, professional tennis and country-club style luxury.
Alexander says Gobat, who watched his parents successfully manage hotels, was a natural – he loved people, sport and fitness and understood the leisure market. “Ollie had an abundance of charm, a good wit and could talk to anybody,” he says. “There was a risk of him being a spoiled rich kid with his background, but he rolled up his sleeves, got stuck in and was a jack-of-all-trades. (He) had great people skills.”
The pair became close friends and lived on Seventh Ave, St Peters, in Adelaide’s inner east. Within months, Gobat – youthful, attractive, charming and a passionate Chelsea Football Club fan – was assistant general manager, “spearheading” its rapid growth.
He oversaw more than 100 staff, and “organised everything” at the 5-star club from its crèches, front desk to restaurants.
Alexander, the managing director who later sold his interest, says Adelaide’s “Next Gen” was the most successful of the chain’s Australasia network with almost 10,000 members – thanks in part to Gobat’s hard work.
A gym spokesman agrees: “Ollie was heavily involved … and worked tirelessly in helping build the business in its early days.”
He then met Walter Ventura, now one of Adelaide’s leading restaurateurs, and they “quickly” became business partners. Ventura says his friend was “always eager to explore new opportunities” and in 2001 they founded the popular Vodka Bar, on Hindley St west –
closed after the University of South Australia bought it for $1.32m in 2010. Then, with another best friend, Sydney businessman William Matthews, 46, they launched Skywalker Global, an adventure ride business in Spain, Mexico and America.
“We built the first ride in Marbella … under a 45C Spanish sun in the garden of a spectacular villa,” Ventura says.
Gobat, who held St Lucian, British and Australian citizenships, left Adelaide around 2002, but returned often, especially for the Ashes cricket. His last visit was just five months before his death.
He was to be Ventura’s best man in December 2014. The wedding was delayed after Ventura’s partner Samara had two boys. Today, devastated by grief over Gobat’s death, the businessman struggles with the “very painful loss”. “Ollie was … super athletic, enjoyed watching sport, discussing history and business, drinking with friends, behaving ridiculously and long lunches with his parents and family,” he says.
“He had a privileged upbringing but never made a fuss about it. He was cheeky but never rude, distinctive but not flash. He had strong ethics and (a) sense of right and wrong.”
With its white sandy beaches, breathtaking scenery and crystal clear waters, St Lucia is a picturesque haven for the rich and famous. Having studied in Paris and worked in Mexico, the businessman returned to the Caribbean to make his fortune.
His parents saw the tourism potential in the 1970s and built their empire on the exclusive northern coast, lastly with the Cap Maison five star hotel, now operated by Rufus, who also has Antigua business interests, and Adam. Ollie Gobat was a third director.
The family is well regarded locally, having invested tens of millions of dollars and employing hundreds. But in 2011, a second near-tragedy threatened Gobat’s life when he suffered severe head injuries after being run over by a speedboat off St Lucia. He recovered and at 38 years old was in his prime, having built a million-dollar fortune through property and hotel development.
In April 2014, Gobat was training to represent St Lucia in squash at that year’s Commonwealth Games, in Glasgow, Scotland, and managing one of the Caribbean’s most luxurious beach resorts, The Landings. The ambitious project, located 2.5km south of the family’s resort, included a luxury hotel, apartments valued at up to $4m and private yacht marina.
As its executive director, he was close to securing a big expansion when he was killed in a suspected professional hit on Anzac Day 2014. For his relatives, there is no closure – the barbaric execution remains unsolved, with investigations lost in a sea of diplomatic wrangling, red tape and police inaction.
Speculation over a motive rages in St Lucia while senior government sources fear initial police tips were “deliberately planted to sow confusion and distract”. Homicide detectives believe Gobat’s legitimate deal threatened organised criminals who wanted real estate to launder money – but he got in the way.
“Ollie was the most successful realtor on the island,” says brother Adam, a former London commercial lawyer. “There is not a day that I do not wake up completely heartbroken.”
On the day of his death, Gobat sent his glamorous girlfriend, Sherlan Fontenelle, 34, a text message at 6.30pm to say he would be home later. He never returned.
“We used to joke about how invincible he was, even called him Superman a few times because it seemed he had cheated death over and over,” she says. “Which made what happened so hard to believe even as I sat there that Friday evening waiting on him so we could have dinner. I thought he had simply lost track of time and was out with the boys doing what he did best … making everyone have a good time and laugh.”
Instead, he’d been lured to a remote, unpaved track 2km from Cap Maison – likely by someone he knew – and ambushed.
The assassination’s savagery stunned a tiny nation blighted by crime amid fears witnesses were threatened by a “conspiracy of enforced silence”. He was doused in aviation fuel, set alight in his luxury Range Rover Evoque and left to burn “beyond recognition”. The fire’s ferocity left authorities initially ruling it a bushfire and investigators resorted to matching DNA from a toothbrush for identification.
His body was found propped on the front passenger seat and the car locked from the outside with no keys visible. A post mortem could only find evidence of a “head trauma” – either a bashing or gunshot.
What little is known of the preceding events emerged during a 2015 British inquest. It heard he’d received death threats as he sought $10.55 million in financing. Becoming increasingly “stressed”, he confided to a friend about the threats, explored applying for a gun licence, and sought legal advice over online hackers and a smear campaign, Woking Coroners Court heard.
An unlawful killing verdict was recorded.
The current Prime Minister of St Lucia, Allen Chastanet, a former tourism minister, played golf with Gobat three hours before his friend’s death.
He declined to comment but the pair is said to have talked “business” and the future of The Landings’ undeveloped surrounds before sharing a drink. Gobat, and lawyers, Peter Foster, QC – St Lucia’s House of Assembly speaker – and Rhory McNamara, had that week met then Prime Minister, Dr Kenny Anthony, to “discuss (project) concessions and incentives”. Anthony tells SAWeekend: “As usual, he was calm and respectful. We parted on good terms. It was tough to learn that he had been murdered a few days later.”
Anthony, who’d known Gobat since childhood, describes the murder as “unprecedented” and is “horrified, distressed and bewildered”. He admits “one of my big frustrations” is it remaining unsolved and he’s “very disappointed that no progress or very little progress has been made”.
“Ollie’s murder continues to haunt me to this day. There are so many unanswered questions,” he says. “The evidence suggested that it was a sophisticated and well-planned act to the last detail. Those who committed
“We used to joke about how invincible he was ... it seemed he had cheated death over and over.”
this heinous act were not ordinary criminals.
“Worse yet, Ollie, I believe, knew his killers, or at the very least the person who lured him to his death.” He adds: “Eyebrows were raised because it is rare, though not unknown, for persons of Ollie’s background to be murdered with such impunity. I certainly would have no hesitation in accepting further help from Australia.” Sitting alongside her husband Theo at her cousin’s Adelaide home last month, Ollie’s mother Helen Gobat looks out the lounge window with tears welling.
“It has been so hard on us all,” she says. “It will never go away. This is our life. You can manage your emotions but then it overwhelms you. Knowing someone is still out there is horrendous. We just want to see justice for our son.”
The family has received death threats. Undeterred, they have offered huge rewards, hired a former senior British federal agent, faced local police blunders, and lobbied then UK Home Secretary – and now Prime Minister – Theresa May to intervene as well as both St Lucian Prime Ministers.
A British sticking point was local death penalty laws. The government refuses any police help to foreign nations that support capital punishment that will “potentially lead to any human rights abuses”.
The family was given hope in January 2015 when May finally authorised British help and Surrey Police were enlisted. That “full assistance” has not materialised. No British officer has travelled to St Lucia, a Commonwealth member, while the family is outraged by the absence of UK police contact in more than a year. They feel “abandoned”, their local MP and former Justice Minister Dominic Raab told UK’s Parliament in January.
Anthony also questions the lack of British “urgency” while British Olympic decathlete gold medallist, Daley Thompson, another family friend, adds: “It just seems a shame how often good people get let down.”
Compounding their trauma is the identification of British “persons of interest”, who cannot be named for legal reasons, who have never formally faced interview.
But in a new development, Chastanet’s government recently wrote to May asking for fresh help from the London Metropolitan Police and seeking a “joint investigation”. A No 10 Downing St spokesman would not comment while a Scotland Yard spokeswoman says no request has been made “at this stage” to its Homicide and Major Crime squad.
Helen Gobat hopes authorities will now “do the right thing by Ollie”, whose St Lucia legacy is a sports fund established in his honour. “We feel that it might just happen, even now, so late,” she says.
Main picture, Oliver Gobat off the coast of St Lucia shortly before his murder; left, Gobat and his girlfriend Sherlan Fontinelle (second from right) and friends; below, meeting Princess Diana; bottom Gobat with brother Rufus, mother Helen, brother Adam and father Theo; and his burnt-out Range Rover (Picture: News4orce)