Australia mourns diplomat who died in fall from New York building

By on 22/11/2017 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Empire State Building, lit up in rainbow colours to celebrate the ‘yes’ vote in Australia’s postal ballot on same-sex marriage

Tributes have poured in for an Australian diplomat who fell to his death from a New York balcony after an evening out with his wife and friends.

Julian Simpson, 30, died after falling five storeys from the seventh floor of his Lower East Side apartment building in the early hours of Wednesday.

The tragedy happened after the couple went on to the building’s roof terrace with friends to watch the Empire State Building being lit up in rainbow colours to celebrate the ‘yes’ vote in Australia’s postal ballot on same-sex marriage.

The results had been announced just hours earlier, at 10am on Wednesday Eastern Standard Time in Australia – 6pm on Tuesday in New York.

Celebration ends in tragedy

Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has described Simpson’s death as a “shocking tragedy”, while foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop, senators and UN diplomats praised his professionalism and ability.

Simpson, who was second secretary to the United Nations for Australia, died when he fell over a railing on the balcony just after 1.40am, a spokesman for the New York Police Department said, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

A group of about 10 people had gathered at the couple’s apartment in Clinton Street after a night out for dinner and drinks, the spokesman said.

“Upon investigation, it was determined that …he sat on the balcony railing and lost his balance and fell off,” he said. “No criminality is suspected at this time and the investigation is ongoing.”

Trust game gone awry?

The spokesman said police interviewed Simpson’s wife and other members of the group through the night and into the morning and were told that Simpson may have been playing a “trust game” with a friend when he slipped from the balcony.

The New York Post reported a police source as saying that the diplomat had climbed to a higher roof landing, where he began swinging a female friend around. The woman’s husband then confronted Simpson over the behaviour, who told the man that he meant no harm.

To prove the husband could trust him, Simpson suggested they play the trust game, in which he would lean back on the ledge and trust the man to catch him before he could fall, the source said. The man told investigators that he had put his arm out to catch Simpson, but the diplomat slipped and fell to his death.

Tributes span political divide

Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull told Seven Network’s Sunrise breakfast television programme on Thursday: “It is a tragedy and hearts go out to his family but I cannot provide any more details. It is a shocking tragedy. A young life lost.”

Julie Bishop, Australia’s minister for foreign affairs, said: “Julian was a diligent, professional and highly skilled diplomat, whose support I valued, particularly during UN Leaders’ Week. He will be remembered as someone dedicated to the service of our nation as a member of Australia’s foreign service.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will continue to provide support to Julian’s family, and to other Australian diplomats in New York who have lost a valued colleague.”

Labor senator Lisa Singh told Canberra’s press corps on Thursday that Simpson had worked with her when she spent a three-month stint on secondment to the UN in 2016, as reported by The Australian newspaper.

“Julian was my minder, my staffer,” she said. “He was a person who certainly looked after me for those three months and did an exceptional job at that. He was a very fine young man, a very fine young diplomat. It is very sad to hear that he has passed away.”

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London. She worked on daily newspapers for more than 16 years as an education correspondent, section editor and general news reporter. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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