The Brazilian ambassador to the UK has apologised to the family of Dom Phillips for incorrectly telling them his body had been found in the Amazon along with that of his missing travelling partner Bruno Pereira.
On Monday morning an embassy official called Phillips’s brother-in-law and sister to inform them that the bodies of the British journalist and Brazilian Indigenous expert had been found tied to a tree, one week after the pair vanished on the River Itaquaí.
However, this information was later denied by the federal police, whose forensic science teams have been examining an area where Indigenous volunteer searchers found items belonging to the two missing men on Saturday afternoon.
On Tuesday the ambassador, Fred Arruda, wrote to the Phillips family to retract the embassy statement.
“We are deeply sorry the embassy passed on to the family yesterday information that did not prove correct,” Arruda said.
The Brazilian diplomat claimed that a multi-agency team created at the London embassy to respond to the disappearances had been “misled” by information it had received from “investigating officials”.
“On reflection, there was precipitation on the part of the multi-agency team, for which I wholeheartedly apologise,” Arruda added, insisting “the search operation will go on, with no efforts being spared”.
“Our thoughts remain with Dom, Bruno, yourselves and the other members of both families,” the ambassador said.
Phillips and Pereira disappeared on the morning of 5 June while returning from a four-day reporting trip in the Javari region of the Amazon.
An Indigenous-led search operation has so far located a number of items belonging to the two men, in an area of flooded forest close to where they are suspected to have been ambushed on the river.
However, contrary to the information passed to Phillips’s family by the embassy, the men have yet to be found.
The disappearances have thrown a spotlight on the soaring Amazon deforestation and the dismantling of Brazil’s Indigenous and environmental protection services that have played out under the far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro.
Phillips, a longtime contributor to the Guardian, had been in the region to chronicle the fight for the future of the world’s largest tropical rainforest and was writing a book on the topic, called How to Save the Amazon.