Samson D’souza and Placido Carvalho have been cleared of the rape and culpable homicide of British schoolgirl Scarlett Keeling in Goa eight years ago
More than eight years after 15-year-old British teenager Scarlett Keeling’s body was found on a beach in Goa, two men accused of raping her and causing her death have been acquitted by a court.
Two beach shack workers Samson D’souza and Placido Carvalho were acquitted by the Goa children’s court on Friday. They had been accused of sexually assaulting Scarlett after giving her a cocktail of drugs and leaving her unconscious in the shallow waters. Her body was found in the early hours of February 19, 2008.
“I am devastated,” said Scarlett’s mother, Fiona MacKeown, who came to Goa hoping her daughter would finally get justice.
“It has been long time of waiting. Waiting for this day. I am nervous and hope that the struggle and wait will end,” Fiona had said before the verdict.
The case was first investigated by the Goa police and was dismissed as a suicide but it was later handed over to the CBI, which eventually filed a charge-sheet against the two accused.
Over the years, three public prosecutors and five judges have changed in the case. An eyewitness, a British national, Michael Mannion, did not testify after he reportedly had a nervous breakdown.
Mr Mannion had told the police that he saw one of the two men sexually assaulting the teenager.
Scarlett’s death had thrown the spotlight on Goa’s drugs underbelly, with her mother also accusing the local police of trying to cover up the case, claiming there was a drugs mafia at work.
How the tragic case of the 15-year-old’s death unfolded
Scarlett Keeling was on a six-month family holiday in 2008 with her mother, her mother’s boyfriend and seven siblings and half-siblings, when tragedy struck.
Having travelled with her extended family to India in November the previous year, Scarlett, 15, had successfully pleaded to be allowed to remain in the hippy beach town of Anjuna while the rest of her family decamped to the neighbouring state of Karnataka.
She would remain to help Julio Lobo, a 25-year-old local tour guide, who ran boat trips spotting dolphins, crocodiles and elephants, all while living in his aunt’s home.
“She was just having fun, helping out, serving food and drinks. She was pretty, and everyone liked her,” said her mother Fiona MacKeown.
It later emerged she had a sexual relationship with one of the locals.
In early February, with the family holiday winding up, Scarlett moved to join her family in Gokarna further down India’s west coast, but begged her mother to be allowed to briefly return to Anjuna to attend a Valentine’s Day party.
After initially resisting, Ms MacKeown eventually relented. She would later tell The Telegraph: “Of course I will regret that as long as I live. The fact is I let her stay behind.”
On the night of Feb 17, Scarlett was seen by multiple eyewitnesses stumbling into an Anjuna beach bar called Luis’ Shack at around 3am.
According to the bar owner, who spotted her on the beach minutes earlier, she was already inebriated upon her arrival, and was seeking a lift home.
Instead she ended up in the bar’s kitchen with the two accused where she took cocaine, according to the testimony of Murli Sagar, another man present who admitted to taking drugs and has since turned witness.
Both he and the accused deny provoking the teenage Scarlett to take drugs.
Michael Mannion, a British eyewitness who was also present, reported seeing her leave the bar with Sagar, who had agreed to take her home, at around 5am.
But 15 minutes later Sagar had vanished and Samson D’Souza was “lying on top” of Scarlett in the bar’s car park.
”In the light of the front beam of his scooter, I saw Samson D’Souza on top of Scarlett,” Mannion later said, “I was in a complete state of total panic, shock. I got on my bike and I rode off.”
Sagar has since testified that D’Souza had emerged from the bar, grabbed Scarlett from behind and told him to leave.
It was the last time Scarlett was seen alive. A few hours later police officer Guranth Naik, responding to an anonymous call thought to have been made by local barmen, discovered Scarlett’s semi-naked body lying face down in the waves.
The police ‘cover-up’
Scarlett’s body was taken to a local morgue early on the morning of Feb 18, where an autopsy was immediately carried out.
The following day, police inspector Nerlon Albuquerque told a press conference that her death was a case of accidental death due to drowning.
However Dr Silvano Sapeco, the veteran pathologist who carried out the autopsy, later said he had “verbally expressed the possibility of homicidal drowning” to police, but been ignored and overruled by Albuquerque, who, according to court documents, directed his sub-inspector to treat the case as an accidental drowning.
Two days later, on Feb 21, Scarlett’s grieving mother, Fiona MacKeown, began approaching the locals for information, and was bluntly told by one that it was widely assumed Scarlett had been raped and murdered.
On her way to the police station she found her daughter’s bikini bottoms, torn sandals and shorts lying unnoticed on the beach, amplifying her doubts about the police investigation.
She and her lawyer Vikram Varma then secured permission to examine her daughter’s body, and afterward told reporters they had counted 52 separate injuries, in contrast to the five wounds police had reported.
By now suspecting foul play, they met the state’s chief minister on Feb 26, to request the case be investigated as a crime. Although the request was initially declined, just two days later, amid growing international media attention, a police first information report (FIR) was finally filed.
On March 4, two Indian national ministers called for the case to be reopened from scratch, condemning the initial police report as “shocking and embarrassing”.
“If the police are trying to cover up, those involved should be brought to book,” said Renuka Chaudhary, the women’s minister.
The federal investigation
A second autopsy on March 22 recommended the case be investigated as a homicide.
It found bruises around the victim’s pelvic area to support Ms MacKeown’s claims that her daughter had been raped, and sandy water in her lungs indicating she died in shallow water.
Ms MacKeown and Mr Varma believe that another ante-mortem bruise on Scarlett’s upper back indicated she had been forcibly held down, although this is not stated in either post-mortem.
Twenty-four hours later, Samson D’Souza was arrested on the basis of eyewitness accounts placing him as the last person seen with the victim.
By the end of March, Carvalho was also under arrest, and both police inspector Albuquerque and pathologist Sapeco had been suspended from their posts.
Sagar and Mannion both agreed to testify as witnesses.
On June 5, more than 100 days after Scarlett’s death, the case was transferred to India’s Central Bureau of Investigation.
But following 16 months’ investigation, the CBI charged D’Souza and Carvalho not with murder, but culpable homicide – roughly the equivalent of manslaughter.
Court documents seen by the Telegraph charge the pair with “deliberately leaving her near the water line on the sea beach, knowing that she was fully intoxicated”, as well as sexual assault and attempting to conceal the crime.
Vikram Varma, Fiona MacKeown’s lawyer, said a “substantial amount of evidence was destroyed” due to the delay in transferring the case to the CBI, leading investigators to “dilute the charges”.
Ms MacKeown said at the time she was “floored” by the decision.
While mystery still surrounds the final hours of Scarlett Keeling’s life, a startling insight into her state of mind over the last few weeks of her life is provided by her diary.
It reveals an increasingly tormented girl occupying a dark mental place, far removed from the ostensibly happy world of Goan parties and dolphin tours.
They tell of her underage experimentation with sex and hallucinogenic drugs, and end with the words “I’m stuk [sic]” and “I want to go home”, alongside an anonymous doodle of a hangman.
A former pupil of Small School in Hartland, Devon, Scarlett had also been a keen surfer and horse rider growing up, fueling Ms MacKeown’s doubts about the initial police explanation of accidental drowning.
Samson D’Souza, 30, was working as a bartender, or “shack boy”, at Luis’ Shack and living with his French wife Cecile as well as Michael Mannion at the time of Scarlett’s death.
D’Souza, who has appeared at court with his head covered, admits he was with Scarlett on the night of her death, but said he last saw her alive as he walked home alone at around 5am, according to his lawyer.
Placido Carvalho, 42, an alleged drug dealer, is accused of plying Scarlett with cocaine. The two men were friends, along with Mannion and Murli.
Describing the pair in court at the trial’s closing arguments last week, Ms MacKeown said: “One of them, Carvalho, at least had the decency to look away from me and down at the floor.
“The other, D’Souza, just stared straight at me with a coldness – almost an arrogance. It was awful. Hopefully that won’t have done him any favours in front of the judge.”
D’Souza and Carvalho went on trial on March 3, 2010 at Goa’s Children’s Court, due to the age of the victim.
But the court, which deals with all manner of cases involving juveniles, suffers a notorious backlog of cases, and has only been able to hear Scarlett’s case around once per month.
Further delays have been caused by frequent changes in judges as each reached their term limit.
Nonetheless, 33 witnesses have given evidence, including Fiona MacKeown, who sensationally alleged that a drug syndicate tied to top-ranking state politicians may have entrapped and murdered Scarlett. She later admitted she had no evidence for the claims.
Closing arguments were delivered last month, and the verdict is due on Friday.
Both of the accused plead not guilty to culpable homicide and sexual assault.
The prosecution must first convince the judge to convict the accused despite the issues of conflicting post-mortem reports and lack of evidence due to delays in the investigation.
But their argument faces a more fundamental challenge. The prosecution case rests heavily on the fact that D’Souza was the last person seen with Scarlett. But the eyewitness who last allegedly saw them together has refused to give evidence before the court.
Michael Mannion – a 43-year-old long-term Goa tourist known to friends as “Masala Mike” – was staying with his friend D’Souza at the time of Scarlett’s death.
A carpenter originally from London, Mannion claimed he had warned D’Souza to stay away from Scarlett on the night of her death due to her age.
But after Scarlett’s body was found, Mannion fled and went into hiding for several days, claiming to fear for his own safety.
He did later come forward after police promised to protect him, and gave his account of events to a magistrate. But thereafter he moved back to England.
He has since repeatedly refused to travel to Goa to give evidence, or even appear before the court via videolink, claiming to suffer from PTSD.
With his earlier statement declared inadmissible for the trial of D’Souza and Carvalho, his absence may severely weaken the prosecution’s case.
As Varma puts it: “We have eyewitness for 100 minutes over which the crimes took place. Of the remaining 45, Mannion could have accounted for 20. The judge can use her discretion.
“She has to put the chain together. The concept of ‘last-seen’ means the suspects are required to give reasonable explanation [of their whereabouts] which they have not. The judge can draw inferences.”
For Varma and MacKeown, there is a sense of betrayal after Mannion promised them he would return to testify.
“He’s a coward and a git,” said Ms MacKeown. “He could have saved her life that night. He should have at least given evidence.”
Neither of the accused have cooperated to give their accounts of the night before court, arguing the onus is not on them to prove their innocence, but on the prosecution to prove them guilty.
The defence instead argues that the lack of an eyewitness to the final moments of Scarlett’s life should be enough to put reasonable doubt in the judge’s mind.
It also blames “external forces” for the “targeting” of D’Souza and Carvalho – essentially arguing that the two became scapegoats of the intense media and diplomatic pressure placed on Goan authorities in the weeks following Scarlett’s death.
“If someone wants to shield someone, the only person who can be targeted is somebody lowly like a barman,” said defence counsel Marvin D’Souza.
His case has repeatedly referred to the initial post-mortem which merely stated Scarlett’s death was “due to drowning… with a few non-fatal injuries”.
He dismisses the second report’s conclusion that the death can justifiably be investigated as a homicide as “a stray remark” that was subsequently “misread” by the media.
Scarlett’s injuries could have been sustained as she drowned or while her body was moved to hospital, it says.
The defence has also pointed to the presence of morphine and cocaine in Scarlett’s system to explain how a strong swimmer could have drowned in the sea late at night.
Fiona MacKeown is certainly no stranger to controversy. A mother of nine children she was pilloried by the tabloid press after it emerged that she had left teenage Scarlett with a 25-year-old “boyfriend”.
Indeed, Goan police at one stage investigated Ms MacKeown for negligence – a move she described at the time as “disgusting” and “trying to change the media focus” away from its own investigation’s shortcomings.
She later admitted to have been “naïve and too trusting”, telling The Telegraph: “I have got to live with that, but I did not murder her. It’s not my fault. I did not murder her.”
Ms MacKeown has flown to Goa multiple times during the trial, and also appeared in court on Friday for the verdict.