Probe into British girl’s death focuses on fellow tourist

March 12th, 2008 - 5:50 pm ICT by admin  

Panaji, March 12 (IANS) The Goa police probing the suspected killing of 15-year-old British tourist Scarlette Keeling have zeroed in on British tourist Michael Mannion, identified as “Masala” in the local media, who claimed to be an eyewitness to the crime but fled citing fears about his safety. The police said a lookout notice for Mannion was issued “some time ago”, but the matter received publicity only now. The British High Commission also was contacted on the whereabouts of the person police believed could be a crucial witness in the case.

Since the Feb 18 death of Keeling, who was holidaying in and around Goa with her mother and six siblings, the news has been widely reported in the British media, even as the police here were accused of attempting to hush up the case and convert it into a ‘death by drowning’.

Keeling was found dead early morning Feb 18 at the Anjuna beach village, known since the 1960s as a major hippy haunt, where late night parties are known to be fuelled by narcotics during the November-February tourist season.

Nearly 300,000 foreign tourists are among the 2.5 million tourists that end up in India’s holiday state of Goa. Each year some 40-50 deaths among tourists are reported.

While some are routine ones caused by accidents and ill health, many have remained unexplained and are suspected to be linked to the narcotics trade, for which a part of the Goan coastal belt is notorious.

In Goa, Chief Minister Digambar Kamat ruled out the possibility of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probing the Keeling death, saying he had full faith in the police team investigating the matter.

The mother of the girl, Fiona Mackennon, has however questioned the need for an ossification test on the body, which the police say would help establish whether the girl was really 15 years of age.

In other developments, two local young men whom Keeling was thought to be with a few hours before her death have sought anticipatory bail.

‘Mike Masala’, the person for whom the police are looking now, was termed as a potential “all important” link in the case, and could help solve the case.

Various versions of what happened to Keeling in her last hours have emerged in the media, with allegations of drug abuse surfacing repeatedly.

The police and authorities here have been embarrassed in explaining why such abuse of narcotics continues unabated along a part of Goa’s coast and also why they sought to pass off the death as accidental.

Defence lawyers for others who were known to the girl have put out versions, which sought to maintain the innocence of their clients.

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