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More delays feared in trial of man accused of Danielle McLaughlin murder in India


Danielle McLaughlin was killed in 2017.

Danielle McLaughlin was killed in 2017.

Danielle McLaughlin was killed in 2017.

The man accused of raping and murdering Donegal backpacker Danielle McLaughlin (28) in 2017 has been caught up in a cocaine smuggling ring behind bars and is now facing a spell in solitary confinement.

This latest development in India is expected to further stall the trial of Vikat Bhagat, which has already been beset by constant delays.

“What I am worried and scared about now is that this latest drug issue is just going to delay his trial even further,” Ms McLaughlin’s mother Andrea Brannigan told the Sunday Independent.

“This is just another distraction we do not need. He was previously caught with drugs behind bars and when he appeared in court all the proceedings were about that rather than what he was on trial for, my daughter’s murder.

“It was the same when he was fighting them over wearing handcuffs — that went on for months. I want to directly appeal to the Irish and British embassies to intervene now to ensure the same thing does not happen again.”

A high-level meeting was held last month over the slow process of the trial. Diplomats from Ireland and England travelled to Goa and met the state’s chief minister to discuss Ms McLaughlin’s murder.

Last Sunday, police in India announced they had arrested two men, including a prison guard at the Colvale jail in north Goa, for attempting to smuggle cocaine into the jail. The police said the drugs were intended for Bhagat, who they intend to arrest and quiz over the smuggling operation.

“It feels like any time we are making progress with the trial, something like this happens and sets it back again,” Ms Brannigan said.

“We are only on witness 11 out of 58. I want to travel over to the trial but at the moment there is no point. We just want justice for Danielle.

“The case might need to be moved to a different court, that was part of the recent diplomatic discussions. I am pleased the diplomatic meeting took place, but now we finally just need to see the trial get under way properly.”

Ms McLaughlin, from Buncrana, Co Donegal, was murdered in March 2017. Her body was found in a field between the Agonda and Canacona beaches in south Goa. Her friend Bhagat was charged with her murder.

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He denies the charge. His trial began in July 2017 but has been hampered by delays — with the court sitting for about half an hour, once a month.

Ms Brannigan, who met then taoiseach Leo Varadkar over her daughter’s case in 2018, has been calling on the Government to intervene for some time. She hopes that now, finally, diplomatic moves that are afoot will ensure the trial will soon begin properly. For Ms Brannigan and Danielle’s four younger sisters, life is on hold until then.

“We haven’t been able to come to terms with our loss properly. How can we?” Ms Brannigan said.

“I have been promised so much by the Irish Embassy and the Government. I was promised at the beginning that he (Bhagat) would have a proper trial, and that it would be fast-tracked, but it hasn’t happened. I’ve been promised a lot of help from the Government over the years, but it hasn’t happened. 

“I would go over to India if there was a proper trial running every day. But at the moment there’s no point in travelling all the way over to possibly see trial proceedings for half an hour before it’s adjourned again.”

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