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Sunday 25 June 2017

Experienced traveller Danielle was a victim of the dark side of Indian beach culture

Danielle McLaughlin pictured with local children during an earlier trip to Asia, when she spent time in Thailand
Danielle McLaughlin pictured with local children during an earlier trip to Asia, when she spent time in Thailand
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

The night before she resumed her worldwide adventure, Danielle McLaughlin looked out over Lough Swilly and counted herself lucky.

She told her family and friends that she was grateful and appreciative of all they had done for her. This was her special place. It is where she called home.

"I am very grateful and the luckiest person I know," she said as she left Co Donegal for Goa, on India's western coast.

Less than a month later, Danielle was found dead, lying face down in a field more than 8,000km from home. Her clothes had been removed. Her body, head and face were marked and beaten.

Vikat Bhagat is led into court by police in Goa
Vikat Bhagat is led into court by police in Goa

The 28-year-old backpacker was discovered by a farmer as he went about his business last Tuesday morning.

A post-mortem examination was carried out by local doctors who documented the injuries sustained in her horrific final moments. They noted the head wounds and marks to her face. Her neck had been compressed. She had been strangled and died after being starved of oxygen. There was evidence that she had been raped.

Danielle's dream adventure had ended with a nightmare.

This time of year is an exceptionally busy one in Goa.

Danielle was there to celebrate Holi, known as the festival of love and colour because it marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring.

Bonfires are lit in open spaces and revellers, armed with dry paints and coloured water, target and smear each other with different colours. The beginning of the festival is marked by a full moon and it goes on for a night and a day. Last Sunday was a full moon and the party carried on into Monday.

Danielle McLaughlin. Photo: PA
Danielle McLaughlin. Photo: PA

For those visiting the region, the festivities can drag on much longer, as a carnival atmosphere spills out on to the streets and beaches.

However, the area is not without its dangers. A Department of Foreign Affairs advice note drafted last year for Irish people travelling in India offers a comprehensive note for women visiting the country. It warns them to express caution and highlights a spate of recent sexual attacks.

"Women should consider travelling in a group in India," it advises.

"The cultural norms in India are very different to Ireland. In India, it is unusual for women to travel independently. In the evening or at night-time, women should be particularly cautious.

"Recent sexual attacks against female visitors in tourist areas and cities show that foreign women are at risk. Tourists have been the victims of sexual assault in Agra, Goa, Delhi, Bangalore, Madyha Pradesh, Kolkata and Rajasthan.

"Women travellers often receive unwanted attention in the form of verbal and physical harassment by individuals or groups of men. This may include being photographed.

"If you are a woman travelling in India you should respect local dress codes and customs and avoid isolated areas, including beaches, when alone at any time of day. Women travellers should be particularly careful when selecting their accommodation and consider sharing a room where possible."

One of those recent attacks highlighted by the Department of Foreign Affairs includes the case of 15-year-old Scarlett Keeling. The British teenager died in mysterious circumstances in 2008 amid claims of sexual assault, a police cover-up and a political furore. It has gone on to inspire a Bollywood movie.

Read More: Murdered Danielle knew suspected killer and pair exchanged messages, police claim

As an experienced traveller, Danielle would have been aware of the dangers that came with visiting this part of the world.

She set off for the Far East in July 2014 after finishing her studies at John Moores University, in Liverpool.

She spent time in Bangkok and Koh Samui, had the time of her life, and only returned home to Donegal to help care for her grandfather after he became ill.

Murder suspect Vikat Bhagat will also be charged with rape
Murder suspect Vikat Bhagat will also be charged with rape

Last November, Danielle began to get itchy feet again and she was preparing to set off once more, this time exploring her interest in Ayurveda and in becoming a yoga teacher. She never got the chance to follow this dream.

Danielle's mother Andrea Brannigan chose to remember her daughter last week in a refined and dignified way as the family waited for Danielle's remains to be flown home. She admitted it had been a difficult few days.

"Danielle will be sadly missed by us all," she said, before thanking those who have helped out in recent days.

"The family would like to express our thanks to all who have got in touch since receiving this awful news.

"As you can expect, we are finding it very difficult at this trying time.

"We want to thank the Irish and British consulates who, along with Colin (Bell) from the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust, and many friends who have assisted at this time."

Among those to pitch in to help the family was Danielle's friend Christy Duffy. He set up a GoFundMe page to assist with the cost of flying her body home and with the costs of the funeral. An outpouring of local sympathy meant the target of €10,000 was reached in hours. The total is still rising and has raised more than €35,000 to date.

"There is nothing I need to say about Danielle, as anyone who knew her knew she was a kind-hearted, funny young lady who loved life," said Christy.

He described her as a loyal friend, daughter and sister.

"They say the brightest of stars burn the quickest and no other analogy could describe Danielle's life better."

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