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

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - UPFRONT - WORDS AN­DREW HOUGH the­o­liv­er­go­b­at­sports­

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...

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