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Family of UK tourist killed near Mumbai shocked

india Updated: Jan 03, 2007 10:55 IST
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Family and neighbours of Stephen Barnett, the British tourist who was killed in a village near Mumbai after people in London mistook him for a rapist when he asked for directions in English, are shocked over the incident and describe him as a "lovely guy" who kept to himself.

A resident of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, Bennett, 40, lived alone. He was on a holiday in India and was due to return to Cheltenham before Christmas. He was reported to have been lynched by villagers in early December.

Paul Young, Bennett's neighbour who looked after his two cats while he was away, told the media: "He went to India for a week-long break just to get away from it all and see India, which was something he really wanted to do.

"I spoke to him while he was there. He phoned home to check on his cats. He was a big fan of Cheltenham Town football club and used to go to their matches every weekend."

A resident of Cheltenham said, "It's really shocked everyone. He seemed like a lovely guy but kept himself to himself".

His father, Carol Bennett, who lives in the suburb of Leckhampton, said, "It is too soon for us to talk about Stephen's death. We are still very shocked. He just went away on holiday and this happened."

A Gloucestershire Police spokesman said: "We have worked with the Indian authorities to inform Stephen's family. But we are not going any further than that. The investigation will be carried out by the Indian police."

According to reports in the media in London, Bennett was on a trek near Roha and after getting lost, knocked on a woman's door to ask directions. But the villager, who spoke no English, feared he was an attacker and fled to a neighbour's home.

Not realising she was afraid, Stephen reportedly followed her, and a 15-strong gang armed with sticks descended on him. After killing him, the mob dragged his corpse into dense forest in Malsai, 160 km from Mumbai, and hanged him.

The reports quote local police official Vijay Patil as saying that Stephen was lynched because the mob understood no English and believed he was about to attack the woman. Four people have been arrested.

Patil reportedly said,"They thought he was harassing her or wanted to rape her. They couldn't understand what he wanted to say. About 15 men beat him with sticks until he was dead."

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson said that that it had not been told whether any of the arrested men had been charged.

"All we know is that Indian police are treating Mr Bennett's death as murder, though we have no information as to why he was in such a remote place and what the possible motive could be".

Most reports on the incident also recalled the murder of a British aid worker, Michael Blakey, 23, when he was stoned to death by a mob near Dharamsala.

Friends and colleagues of Blakey have decided to construct a centre for the poor in India as a lasting memorial to him.

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