Irish woman found dead near beach in Indian state of Goa

Michael Safi in Delhi

Police arrest man in connection with death of 28-year-old from County Donegal who holds dual British-Irish citizenship

Palolem Beach in Goa, India, which is close to the site where the woman’s body was found. Photograph: Max Paddler/Getty Images/Gallo Images

A murder investigation has been launched after the body of a dual British-Irish citizen was found near a beach in Goa, India.

The 28-year-old woman, named by Indian police as Danielle McLaughlin, was found bruised and naked in a field in Canacona, in the southern part of the state.

McLaughlin, a dual British-Irish citizen, is thought to have been visiting Goa with a friend to celebrate Holi festival.

“The body was lying in a pool of blood without clothes and there were injuries on the head and face,” police deputy superintendent Sammy Tavares told local media.

Filomeno Costa, the officer in charge at Canacona police station, said a middle-aged man had been arrested in connection with the woman’s death. Her body is undergoing a postmortem in the state capital, Panjim, to determine if she was sexually assaulted.

He told local reporters: “A local named Prashant Komarpant alerted us after he noticed the body while he was on his way to the fields around 7am on Tuesday morning. We sent her body to Goa Medical College for autopsy and are awaiting report to ascertain if she was sexually assaulted.”

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The inspector added: “We are also speaking with the hotels where she had stayed to find out if she was with her friends or holidaying alone.”

McLaughlin, originally from Buncrana in County Donegal and thought to have been living in England, had just arrived from the north of the state and had been at a party on Monday night at the popular Palolem beach.

Detectives are studying CCTV footage from all the beachside shacks the victim visited, working with sniffer dogs and forensic teams. While police found her clothes, they had yet to locate a murder weapon.

Her body was discovered by a farmer at Deobag Beach on Tuesday morning about 3.5 miles (6km) from Palolem. She had suffered extensive injuries to her face.

Divyam Sugeet, a business owner in the area, said: “I was at the crime scene, it was really horrible,” he said. “The whole community is shaken up.”

Residents planned to gather for a vigil where her body was found on Wednesday evening, he said.

In local media the suspect that has been arrested in connection with her murder has been named as Vikas Bhagat.

The deputy superintendent of police, Sammy Tavares, told the website Goacom: “We have arrested Bhagat. He has confessed to raping the victim and later killing her in order to hide his identity.”

Detectives said they had questioned up to 15 people over the murder of McLaughlin, who is understood to have been travelling under a British passport.

The Irish embassy said: “Ireland’s embassy in New Delhi is in contact with Indian authorities in relation to reports of an incident involving an Irish citizen. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade stands ready to provide consular assistance.”

McLaughlin had been in Ireland when she to go backpacking around India in February.

Fr Francis Bradley, a priest in Buncrana, said: ““The family need privacy. They have suffered a lot of loss but with God’s help they will cope. They are a family who has known the sorrow and grief of loss.”

In her final post on Facebook written in late February, McLaughlin, told her friends that she was “off on another adventure” to Goa.

She said: “Thank you to all my friends and family for making home so special and always looking after me. I am very grateful and the luckiest person I know ... Off on another adventure.”

Sün Ithilwen said she met McLaughlin when she passed through the Indian city of Rishikesh on her travels.

“She was super sweet, always happy and smiling,” she said. “To know the circumstances of her death is one thing, but knowing how vibrant and amazing she was, it just breaks my heart.”

She said McLaughlin had been “super aware” of the dangers of travelling alone in India. “But she trusted in life and love,” she said.

Former colleagues of McLaughlin, who reportedly studied at John Moores University and had lived in Sefton, Merseyside, paid tribute on Wednesday.

Staff from the Pumphouse pub on the Albert Dock in Liverpool posted on social media to say: “Very sad to hear we have lost one of our old team members Danielle McLaughlin in Goa this week. She was only 28. Goodbye Danielle. Deepest condolences to her family in Ireland.”

McLaughlin is believed to have been visiting the area to celebrate the festival of Holi, a Hindu spring festival celebrated in India and Nepal, also known as the “festival of colours” with people throwing colourful paint at each other to celebrate the triumph of good over evil.

According to Goacom, a friend working in the accommodation business at nearby Agonda said McLaughlin had arrived in the area on Sunday and stayed with another friend.

The friend said she had left at 2pm on Monday and was seen at a hotel in Palolem dancing with Indian friends during the celebrations.

Friends posted tributes on Facebook for the victim, with one, Tom Prior, writing: “Love you Danielle, you had the most beautiful soul.”

Another friend, Christy Duffy, wrote: “Can’t even say RIP to me old friend Danielle McLaughlin cause she was more of a believer in reincarnation ... in having another spin round and no time for resting.

“So wherever ya are now Dani know that a lot of people are heartbroken today and the world is that wee bit sadder today having lost someone who added so much happiness to it.”

Rena Donaghey, a councillor in the Buncrana, told the the Irish Independent that her death had left the whole community in deep shock.

She said: “Everyone is very saddened by the news. She was a lovely young woman who has come to a very sad end. She was very popular and very liked in the community. She headed off on a backpacking holiday in February to do some travelling.

“On behalf of the community, I would like to offer sympathy and condolences. I hope God will give the family strength at this tragic time to help them through the weeks and months ahead.”

In September two men were acquitted of involvement in the 2008 death of Scarlett Keeling, 15, from Devon whose body was found on Anjuna beach in the north of the state.

The teenager’s death was initially ruled an accidental drowning but pressure from her mother forced police to conduct a second autopsy, which revealed evidence of ecstasy, cocaine and LSD in her body. It also showed 50 cuts and bruises and evidence of sexual assault.