14/04/2012 10:06 BST

Neil Heywood Murder: Foreign Office Defends Self Against 'Delays'

The Foreign Office has defended itself over alleged delays in intervening over the murder of a British businessman in China.

Britain asked the Chinese to investigate the death of Neil Heywood and it emerged last week that the wife of a senior Communist Party official is being probed for his "intentional homicide".

The 41-year-old was found dead on November 15 in Chongqing in central China.

Saturday's edition of The Times said that the Foreign Office was facing increasing questions over delays in its intervention.

It said it had emerged that a British diplomat and two Chinese policemen attended Heywood's cremation in Chongqing shortly after he was killed.

But the British did not raise questions with the Chinese until three months later, despite locally based British businessmen urging the Foreign Office to intervene, the newspaper said.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "As we became more concerned about this case, including following suggestions from the business community, we took the decision to ask the Chinese authorities to launch an investigation.

"We acted as soon as we thought concerns about the case justified it.

"We are pleased that the Chinese have now launched that investigation. We were in constant contact with the family throughout and kept them informed of our actions."

Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday during a Far East tour that he was pleased the Chinese authorities were taking action over the murder.

He said: "We did ask the Chinese to hold an investigation and we are pleased that they are now doing that.

"It is very important we get to the truth of what happened in this very disturbing case, this very tragic case."

Heywood was a friend of the family of Bo Xilai, a former rising star in Chinese politics who served as local party chief in Chongqing.

At the time, Chinese officials said the British expat died of "excessive alcohol consumption".

But friends questioned this, saying the businessman was not a heavy drinker.

In February, Bo's former police chief Wang Lijun sought refuge in the US consulate in China.

It is thought he made a number of claims against the politician and his wife Gu Kailai, including her alleged role in Heywood's death.

State media reported on Tuesday that Gu Kailai and Zhang Xiaojun, an orderly at Bo's home, had been arrested.

Meanwhile Bo has been suspended from the Communist Party's 25-member Politburo amid allegations of "serious discipline violations".

Bo, his wife and their son had been friends with Heywood but had recently clashed over a financial matter, state media suggested.

The Xinhua News Agency reported that Bo's wife and son had been in conflict with Heywood over "economic interests", a conflict which had "intensified".

It added: "Whoever has broken the law will be handled in accordance with law and (it) will not be tolerated, no matter who is involved."

Heywood had lived in China for 10 years and was fluent in Mandarin. He had two children with his Chinese wife.

Saturday's Daily Mail said that his wife, Wang Lulu, had visited the British Embassy in Beijing yesterday, and was understood to have asked for a visa to go to the UK with her children. The Foreign Office declined to comment.