The family of Stephen Bennett — the UK national whose body was found hanging from a tree in Malsai village, 120 km from Mumbai in Roha taluka, on December 10 — plans to come to India to retrace his journey and investigate for itself how exactly he died.
The family doesn’t buy the police version that the 40-year-old builder was killed by villagers because he tried to molest a woman. It also denies telling the police that Stephen was a drug addict or that he suffered from AIDS.
Speaking to Hindustan Times from her Cheltenham residence, Stephen’s sister Amanda Bennett-Merritt said: "The police are lying. They never even bothered to contact us. Several e-mails we wrote to them were ignored.
A forensic exam of Stephen’s body in the UK showed he had no history of drug use, nor did he have AIDS." She added: "We are coming to India to investigate for ourselves how my brother died." There were reports that they were already here, but Amanda said they were waiting for Stephen’s funeral, which should be held in a week’s time.
The family believes the police are trying to portray Stephen as a shady character to hide the fact that he was murdered. "Stephen was a friendly sort who talked to anybody. He probably came across the mafia in Goa, who thought he was ferreting out information for the police," Amanda said.
The family thinks Stephen was drugged at Baga and taken away by car. He managed to escape at Panaji and contacted them. "He sounded shaken. His bags were at Baga, so he didn’t have his passport or cash. We advised him to check into a good hotel. The next day — December 7 — he went to Baga by taxi to pick up his stuff," said Amanda. "He must have been followed back, abducted and taken out of Goa."
Amanda believes Stephen managed to escape from his captors, hands tied, into the brush at Roha. "He was caught and hit on the head — the forensic exam shows head injuries and that his hands were bound — and strangled. He was then strung up to make it look like a suicide."
Stephen, separated from his wife, had two daughters. "Once reports of his death appeared in the media, we had to tell the girls," said Amanda. "They were devastated."
The family is particularly hurt with "the police’s seeming involvement in the cover-up". Amanda is also not convinced that Stephen reached Roha by train. "We believe the date on the train tickets was tampered with," she said. She added: "This is very, very hard on us. We will investigate his journey ourselves based on what Stephen told us."