Video footage shows Danielle McLaughlin with murder suspect on eve of her death as new witnesses shed light on her last hours
A man suspected of killing an Irish-British woman at a tourist resort in Goa will face murder and rape charges, police in the Indian state have said.
A postmortem showed that Danielle McLaughlin died from cerebral damage and constriction of the neck, said Umesh Gaonkar, a superintendent with Goa police.
The 28-year-old from Buncrana, County Donegal, was discovered naked and severely beaten in a field between the popular Palolem and Agonda beaches in the south of the state on Tuesday morning.
She was found “lying in a pool of blood without clothes and there were injuries on the head and face”, Sammy Tavares, the deputy superintendent of Canacona police, told local media.
News of the charges came shortly after police released CCTV footage showing the dual Irish-British national on the day before her death.
The images showed McLaughlin walking before nightfall on Monday with a man police identified as the accused, Vikat Bhagat.
Police said Bhagat had confessed to the murder but denied sexually assaulting McLaughlin.
Tavares said a court had granted police permission to hold Bhagat for seven days to complete their investigation. “Then we will submit a charge sheet and the case will go on,” he said.
McLaughlin had met Bhagat on a previous trip to Goa and had been “seen with this guy from the afternoon of the 13th”, he said.
Bhagat, 24, described by local people as a gang member and petty criminal, was arrested within four hours of police being alerted to the discovery of McLaughlin’s body. “On further investigations, he confessed of having [been] involved in the gruesome murder of the innocent lady,” he said.
A vigil was held on Wednesday evening near where McLaughlin’s body was found, attended by about 200 locals and tourists, who lit candles and laid wreaths and flowers on the grass. Some attendees carried a banner reading: “Justice for Danielle”.
One of her friends in Ireland told the Press Association that her body had been released from the postmortem and would probably begin a journey home to Ireland on Friday. Christy Duffy said two other friends were travelling to Goa so they could accompany the body during the repatriation process. He has raised more than €30,000 (£26,000) to help with the costs and to “give her the send-off she deserves”.
The charges came as criticism of the police handling of the case continued to mount. Saskia Gall, a British national who was asked to help identify McLaughlin’s body, said there had been significant “contamination of evidence” at the crime scene. “We went out to the field and there were about 30 or more men standing next to the body taking photos and watching,” she said.
She questioned police claims that McLaughlin had been found in a pool of blood. “There are a ton of holes in the police story and I know for a fact this is not the end of it,” she said.
Two Britons who spent part of Monday night with McLaughlin, but who were yet to be interviewed by police, said she had been with a group of men and seemed comfortable and “free-spirited”.
Dave Woodruff, 37, said he had met McLaughlin at the Green Park beach resort on Palolem beach. He said he had noticed McLaughlin’s strong Irish accent and the pair struck up a conversation. “She was really interesting, told me about her family and life,” he said. “We got on really well and spoke for a couple of hours.
“Progressively, as the night went on, about five Indian guys arrived and sat near to us,” he said.
Woodruff’s friend, Kate, who asked for her last name to be withheld, was also there with her husband. “The men were kind of sticking to themselves,” she said. “But it was obvious [McLaughlin] knew them; she referred to them as friends.”
Woodruff said the night was, in retrospect, eerie. “[McLaughlin] and I sat together and we chatted a lot, and these guys would pull her back and say: ‘You’re with us, remember’.”
He said McLaughlin laughed and shrugged them off. “She was just like, ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’,” he said. McLaughlin told him she had met one of the men the previous year, that an offer of accommodation at the beach had fallen through and that the man was going to help her find a place to stay.
Kate said McLaughlin did not seem under duress. “When she wasn’t speaking to Dave or the Indian guys, she was happy, she was dancing,” she said.
At about 9pm, Woodruff, Kate and her partner agreed to go swimming. Woodruff said he asked McLaughlin to join him. “She said, ‘Yeah, give me two minutes. I just need to talk to my friends”, referring to the group of men.
He said he remembered the exact time the group climbed out of the sea because he noticed McLaughlin had gone and had checked his phone to see if she had tried to call him. “It was 9.37,” he said. The men she was with had also disappeared.
Woodruff says he heard the news of her death the next morning at a meal organised for his birthday. “Someone was looking at their phone, at the south Goa community Facebook page and asked me about Danielle’s tattoos. And I started retelling what they looked like and then someone screamed,” he recalled.
Details about a deceased woman, including her tattoos, had been posted to the group, he said. “I was like, no, no, no no, we’re looking too much into this,” he said. “But they were the ones, they were her bloody tattoos.”
Goan police are under pressure to investigate the case transparently after being accused of overlooking evidence in the death nine years ago of British teenager Scarlett Keeling.
The 15-year-old’s death in the north of the state was initially ruled an accidental drowning, before pressure from the girl’s mother forced a second autopsy. It revealed evidence of drugs in her system, more than 50 cuts and bruises and evidence of sexual assault.
Two men charged with her murder were acquitted in September, but Indian authorities are appealing against the judgment.