Kin of five people from the UK, Ireland and Finland, who were killed under mysterious circumstances in Goa in recent years, join forces in their quest for justice from Indian law
(From left) Maureen Sweeney, Fiona MacKeown, Amanda Bennett, Sanna Pirhonen-Cutter and Minna Pirhonen at their first meeting at a coffee shop in Cheltenham, UK
Thousands of miles away, they have one common connection with India - their loved ones took a trip to Goa and never returned, having died under mysterious circumstances. Refusing to back down from the lonely fight for justice, these five families have now joined forces to demand action and answers from Indian authorities.
The death of foreign tourists in Goa has once again come into focus after the murder of Irish-British national Danielle McLaughlin (28) last week. "The recent murder of Danielle McLaughlin, who was subjected to sexual assault and was strangled to death after a party at Palolem beach, only raises our concerns over the safety of foreign tourists," said Amanda Bennett, whose brother Stephen Bennett was killed in Goa in 2006.
"We are in contact with a few families that are seeking justice for their loved ones, whose death is a mystery till date. The number of such mysterious deaths of foreign nationals is only increasing every year, especially in Goa," added Amanda.
In many cases, the investigation was conducted in a shoddy manner, or the deaths were attributed as natural, despite evidence to the contrary. The Bennett family connected with these families through social media - mostly Facebook and Twitter - and have also had video chats with them on Skype. Recently, the Bennetts also hosted the families of four other victims in their hometown, Cheltenham in UK, where they held their first meeting at a coffee shop. Minna Pirhonen, the mother of Felix Dahl (murdered at Patnem in 2015) flew down from Finland for the meeting. She told this reporter, "The purpose of the meetings was to discuss possibilities to move the authorities in Goa and bring about a change in the poor investigations of the deaths of our family members. Maybe we can together have an impact that each of us separately does not have."
The families will soon launch a group page on Facebook and start writing to the authorities to demand action. "We intend to write to UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Indian PM Narendra Modi and ask them why they are not tackling the mysterious deaths of foreign nationals in Goa, where the death toll is increasing every year," Amanda told mid-day.
"We also decided to spread information about the big picture - the poor security and high number of unexplained deaths of tourists in Goa," added Minna, whose sister Sanna Pirhonen-Cutter flew down from Ireland. Also in the meeting were Fiona MacKeown, mother of Scarlett Keeling (2008 murder) and Maureen Sweeney, sister of Denyse Sweeney (killed in 2010).
Minna and Sanna, during their stay in Britain, also met Sara Neighbour, the sister of Martin Neighbour (2008), and James Durkin, father of Jimmy Durkin, who was killed just weeks after the murder of Felix in 2015.
Responding to international media reports that at least 246 foreigners died in Goa in the last 12 years, Goa Deputy Inspector General of Police (Crime and Range) Vimal Gupta said the number was being blown out of proportion. "Many foreign tourists land somewhere else in India and then enter Goa, and they sometimes do not register themselves with the Foreigners Regional Registration office (FRRO) here. This makes it difficult to put them on the police radar," said Gupta.
"Even in the recent case of Irish-British national Danielle McLaughlin, she was not on our police radar as she was not registered with us. Also, she was loitering with a person who was stranger and we found that he was a history-sheeter with police cases against him. We are doing everything possible to ensure safety and security of our tourists, but at the same time, the onus is also on the tourists to follow the guidelines," he added.
Goa Tourism says
Director Goa Tourism speaks
Sanjeev Gavas Desai, director of Goa Tourism said, "We issue advisories to all our registered hotels, shacks and restaurants to fill the mandatory form 'C' and have also increased the presence of life guards at all beaches and demarked the streaming zones, which is not supposed to be crossed by anyone when tourists venture into the beaches. Also numerous security measures are taken to keep the beaches safe for tourists with the help of tourism police deployed at key locations."
4 Average number of foreigner deaths per week in Goa
246 No. of foreigners found dead in Goa in last 12 years