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Dom Phillips’ family wrongly told by Brazilian officials that bodies had been found

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian authorities wrongly informed the family of a British journalist who went missing in the Amazon rainforest that two bodies had been found, according to an apology the Brazilian ambassador to the United Kingdom sent Tuesday to members of family.

The family of Dom Phillips, a Guardian contributor and former Washington Post contract editor, received a message Monday morning from Brazilian embassy officials asking to speak. Paul Sherwood, Phillips’ brother-in-law, was then informed that two bodies had been found tied to a tree. Officials suspected – but had yet to confirm – that the bodies belonged to Phillips and his traveling companion, Bruno Pereira, a longtime official with Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency.

Family say bodies were found looking for journalist and colleague

The family passed on the disturbing information to reporters. But the information was not accurate, the embassy acknowledged in a letter sent to the family.

“We are deeply sorry that the embassy passed on information to the family yesterday that did not turn out to be correct,” Ambassador Fred Arruda wrote. “Information received from investigators misled the Embassy’s multi-agency team.”

He said the embassy acted “hastily” in releasing the information to the family. “I apologize with all my heart,” the ambassador wrote.

The confusion was the latest misstep by officials in a search effort that has been riddled with it, critics say.

Hopes fade, anger grows over disappearance of British journalist in Brazil

Phillips and Pereira disappeared on June 5 after venturing into the remote Javari Valley to investigate growing pressure from illegal hunters and fishers. But it wasn’t until days later that the government mobilized a full search party to search for the missing men. A helicopter, considered an essential tool in the hunt for lost men in an immense territory, was absent in the early morning.

As days passed and more information emerged, hopes that the men would be found alive faded. Pereira, who had mapped criminal activity in the territory, had previously been threatened. Then, during the expedition, an indigenous monitoring team reported that he had again been threatened. A man allegedly brandished a gun.

We traveled deep into the Amazon to investigate deforestation. A macabre discovery awaited us.

Police have since arrested the man and authorities say blood was found in his boat. Research teams have also recovered what appear to be human remains and sent them for genetic testing. Items that belonged to the men – boots, an ID card, a backpack – were also recovered, officials said.

“All indications are that they did something wrong to men,” Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said this week. “With the amount of time we have, eight days becoming nine, and what happened, it’s very unlikely they’re alive.”

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