Thursday 21 September 2017

'These gangs operate in groups' - Lawyer says more than one man murdered Danielle McLaughlin

Left: Danielle McLaughlin was murdered at Indian tourist destination. Centre: Vigil held in memory of victim. Right: Vikat Bhagat (23) has been arrested in connection with the murder
Left: Danielle McLaughlin was murdered at Indian tourist destination. Centre: Vigil held in memory of victim. Right: Vikat Bhagat (23) has been arrested in connection with the murder
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Murdered Irish backpacker Danielle McLaughlin was attacked by more than one man on the night she was killed, a lawyer for her family has claimed.

Indian Solicitor Vikram Varma insisted that accused man Vikat Bhagat (23) could not have overpowered the Donegal woman on his own and urged police to look for other suspects.

Ms McLaughlin's remains were discovered in a remote area near the holiday hotspot of Canacona, Goa last Tuesday morning.

The suspect was arrested by police less than 24 hours later and a post-mortem later showed that she had been raped, attacked with a broken bottle and then strangled.

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

Now a solicitor for her family has told the Daily Mail that there are a lot of unanswered questions about the horrific murder.

"Danielle was 5’8” tall and she was really strong. This fellow Bhagat, he does not look strong and muscular. I doubt he had the strength to overcome Danielle on his own," said Mr Varma.

"If she was intoxicated there would have been no need for the terrible injuries she suffered."

Inspector Filomeno Costa told Independent.ie that Bhagat has admitted to killed Ms McLaughlin following hours of drinking at the Holi festival.

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

He claimed the pair were in contact on Facebook and had been friends.

Mr Varma, who also worked on the case of Scarlett Keeling, the 15-year-old murdered in Goa in 2008, told the Mail Online: "Bhagat’s story is that he was alone with Danielle which is doubtful.

"There has to be more than one person involved. I have no doubt.

"He would not have been able to overpower Danielle on his own.

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

"I have a feeling that it was more than one person but we have to verify everything with evidence.

"I believe Danielle’s attackers took her to another place other than the place where the body was found.

"Bhagat’s clothes had blood on them and Danielle’s clothes were found close to his house.

"But these small criminal gangs operate in groups of four to six people. They share the spoils of their exploits.

"They are very loyal to each other."

The lawyer is now urging Goa Police to keep searching for the other attackers. He said they are not satisfied with an arrest and confession, "we are looking for a confession".

"We want the police to continue their investigation and to keep gathering evidence and not be satisfied with only a confession."

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

He said the forensic report will take two to three to complete but he insists they will show if Ms Mclaughlin was sexually assaulted by more than one man

Earlier the victim's friend, Nicole Farren, from Co Donegal travelled to Goa to collect her remains.

"We can not even begin to comprehend what has happened to our amazing beautiful friend Danielle," Nicole said.

"It is horrific and such a tragic way to have departed this world. No one deserves the pain and suffering she endured. How anyone is capable of committing a brutal act such as this to another human being is beyond our understanding."

Nicole described Danielle as a "vibrant soul" who brought "light, laughter and love" wherever she went.

"Because Danielle's voice has been silenced, we are here to represent her and make sure appropriate measures are taken and justice is served. We know that she would want us to speak up and fight for women all around the world."

Nicole thanked people from across the world for their "overwhelming" support.

"We cannot thank everyone enough, especially those who have helped give us all the courage to take this journey and who donated to Danielle's Go Fund page so we can get her home.

"The Kevin Bell foundation is remarkable and have been with us every step of the way, along with the ladies from the British and Irish Embassies who we could not have done any of this with out."

She also thanked the local community in Goa, who she said have experienced similar tourist deaths in the past.

"We would also like to thank the local community who have been amazing we understand there have been cases of tourists who have been murdered in the past which were quickly solved by the police but after the trial these criminals had been aquited, we sincerely hope that this will not be the case for our Danielle.

"If anything, we hope that this will not only make India but also the rest of the world stand up and face the facts, that there is still so much injustice for women, that in some places we are second class citizens.

"Things need to change, Women need equal rights all over the world. They should be safe always and never be scared, have to live and die in fear."

Ms McLaughlin's friends hope to bring her home as soon as possible to be with her family in Donegal.

"My Home, the Buncrana community, Donegal, Ireland are still in complete shock. We have felt that throughout this horrific experience the love and connection of our friends and family back home has been truly immense. We love you.

"We understand in communities like this that people like to stick together. They like to solve any problems themselves.

"We understand that there is a lot of pressure on local people to protect criminals operating in the area. They have a lot of power.

"Sometimes though it is time to stand up. To take a stand. And say no. Enough is enough.

"The criminals only have power if you are silent as a community. If only one or two dare speak. But if you stand up together. Many of you. And tell what you know. These criminals will lose their power over you. You are stronger than they are together.

"We want justice for Danielle. She deserves justice. We know that we all want the same. Whatever community we come from. Whatever our backgrounds. We all want the same thing. Justice. So let's get it together."

A memorial ceremony will take place in Buncrana tomorrow at 7pm for local friends and family to honour the memory of Danielle McLaughlin.

Meanwhile, Ms McLaughlin's violent death in Goa has sparked an urgent look at tourism safety in the region.

The Herald Goa is reporting that a local Minister, Vijai Sardasai, met with local Canacona police and with Danielle's loved ones on Saturday night and was appraised of the investigation.

A meeting of tourism stakeholders is to be held on Tuesday and the Minister has ordered the police to send a top deputy to the meeting in a bid to assure people of the Government's commitment to tourism and the safety of travellers in Goa.

Ms McLaughlin's murder was an isolated event he told the paper and there is concern locally about the impression it will create for tourists of the area.

A solidarity rally, organised by the Canacona business community, will also take place tomorrow.

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