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Indian police to check Scarlett's age

Scarlett Keeling, who was found dead on a beach in the coastal state of Goa on Feb 18, is 15-years-old according to her passport.
Reuters | By Bappa Majumdar, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 11, 2008 03:45 PM IST

Indian police investigating the rape and murder of a British teenage girl in Goa last month, said they will take X-rays of her bones to determine her age, but her lawyer described it as "dilatory tactics".

Scarlett Keeling was found dead on a beach in the coastal state of Goa on February 18. Her passport shows she was 15-years-old.

Police originally said Keeling had drowned after taking drugs, but changed their story after Keeling's mother complained and a second autopsy suggested she had been raped and murdered.

They also arrested a man suspected of raping Keeling and were questioning him for more leads.

On Tuesday, senior police officers said they did not doubt Keeling's age, but were only trying to prove her age scientifically.

"We do not want to take any more chances, as tomorrow someone might say that Scarlett was not a teenager," Bosco Jorge, a senior police officer told Reuters from Goa.

"Once forensic experts have done their job, we will hand over her body to the family for burial," he said on telephone.

Keeling's mother, Fiona MacKeown, who always insisted her daughter had been raped and killed, wrote to the government saying the police did not ask for her permission to conduct new tests.

"They want to violate her body again without any reason," Vikram Varma, Mackeown's lawyer, told Reuters from Goa.

"We have strongly protested and asked them not to carry out further tests as they have already done two autopsies."

Her mother argued with police officers that they could not ignore documentary evidence of Scarlett's age as given in the passport, Varma said.

"Normally ossification tests are carried only on unidentified bodies, but they are stretching this too far," Varma said on behalf of MacKeown.

Indian media said there may have been an attempt to play down the death.

Goa's tourism minister, Francisco X Pacheco, said the police had deliberately covered up the murder to hush up their failure.

Keeling's case is the latest to highlight the safety of tourists in India. Tourism officials met this year to discuss attacks on tourists after at least seven foreign women and girls said they had been raped or molested.

"We are worried at the recent events and have set up a special police force to protect tourists," Ambika Soni, the federal tourism minister, said in India's Parliament on Tuesday.

(Editing by Alistair Scrutton and John Chalmers)

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