'Murder in paradise' trial opens

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Four people aboard a British-owned racing yacht were tortured and killed for cash they did not have when they anchored overnight off the Caribbean island of Barbuda.

The four - two Britons and two Americans - were bound, gagged, stabbed and blasted with a shotgun, a court was told yesterday, the victims of three young West Indians who believed the 65ft racing ketch, the Computer Centre Challenger, carried a substantial amount of money on board.

But the reality was the yacht carried little cash or items of value, Rex Mackay QC, for the prosecution, told the High Court of Antigua at the opening of the trial in St John's.

Three men from Barbuda are charged with the murders of Ian Cridland and Thomas Williams, both British yachting enthusiasts, and a middle-aged American couple Bill and Kathy Clever, who were guests.

Two of the accused, Mellanson Harris, 23 and Marvin Joseph, 22, pleaded not guilty to the murder charge, which carries a death penalty.

The third accused, Donaldson Samuel, 23, denied murder but admitted manslaughter. Samuel will now be sentenced at the end of the trial which is due to last two weeks. He is expected to give crucial evidence against the other two accused.

Much of the opening morning of the trial was taken up with in complex legal argument.

The three accused were arrested after a four-week inquiry by Scotland Yard detectives were called in to investigate the killings. Initially, local police believed the deaths were part of an international drugs' smuggling ring. But a detailed investigation, led by Detective Superintendent Michael Lawrence, of the Yard's International and Organised Crime department, uncovered the first alleged murders on Barbuda in more than half a century.

The Yard team had been working in Antigua at the time on the killing of the former head of Customs and Excise. They were immediately transferred to Barbuda.

The beautiful sun-kissed island, 27-miles north of Antigua, is home to less than 1,600 people, the majority of them living in poverty. It is an island known in the West Indies as "the pink paradise" because of its miles of unspoiled beaches, pink from the constant crushing of the coral off its shores.

The trial continues.