Bound and stabbed, then thrown off Beachy Head. But who was the victim?

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The Independent Online

For the coastguards recovering the three bodies that morning it was a routine, albeit gruesome, task.

For the coastguards recovering the three bodies that morning it was a routine, albeit gruesome, task.

As many as 50 people a year choose to end their lives on the rocks beneath the chalk cliffs at Beachy Head, one of the few beauty spots in England which has a sign advertising the services of Samaritans. Except that this time it was different. One of the bodies was clearly not the victim of personal desperation but of murder.

The pilot of a Sussex Police force helicopter, patrolling the coastline on Thursday last week, spotted the body. As he circled back, he saw what he thought were three more people washed up by the waves.

A cliff rescue team from Eastbourne coastguard was dispatched the following day. They soon realised that they were dealing with three adult males, obviously unconnected by their varying states of decomposition. Two were probably suicide cases, washed up by the heavy storms. But the third was bound, trussed and suffering from multiple stab wounds. "Everyone was shocked. They expect people who jump round here but they don't expect something like that," said Neil Dobbin, assistant manager of the Beachy Head pub.

In the previous few days the young man had been knifed several times in the face. His killer or killers had bound his hands and feet with tape before fastening a plastic bag over his head. Detectives believe they forced the body into a barrel and drove to the edge of the cliffs, probably under cover of darkness, and sent the blue plastic container crashing to the rocks below.

"It is difficult to say when he died, precisely, but some time around the middle of last week," said Detective Chief Inspector Tony O'Donnell, the officer leading the investigation. "There has been speculation of underworld gangland killings and drugs, but there is nothing which suggests that this man was involved in such activity." But before the 60 policemen and women drafted in to the investigation could begin properly to investigate the crime, they had to establish the identity of the victim.

All they knew was that he was aged between 20 and 35, about 5ft 9in tall, of slim athletic build with a medium-length "afro" hairstyle and full black beard. He was wearing a black Performance Wear fleece, blue jeans and a black zip-up top bearing the logo of the band Groove Armada. The only other clue was the 2ft wide, 3ft high plastic barrel which was sent for examination by forensic scientists.

Det Chief Insp O'Donnell and his team turned to the expertise of FBI-trained forensic artists from the National Missing Persons Helpline to help identify the victim. Using photographs of the body, they were able to create a computer-generated image of what he would have looked like in life. Although some aspects of his face, such as the eyes, had to be drawn from a database, enough of his features were intact to create a strong likeness.

The photograph, along with details of his clothing, was circulated to local media and neighbouring police forces to check against their missing persons records. The Eastbourne and Brighton area was flooded with posters.

Other officers have checked his fingerprints against national police and immigration records. The origins of his clothing are being traced and an appeal for information on the BBC's Crimewatch programme is being considered. His DNA is to be checked against the national database.

"We have to be methodical about it, carrying out inquiries in a systematic way, looking locally before moving out across Sussex and then gradually further afield," explained Detective Inspector Jeff Riley. For now police are working on the assumption that he was a local man. "You have to think if he was killed in London would they really have driven down to Beachy Head," he added.

The incident room has been receiving calls suggesting names and the leads are being followed up. But for now, the identity of the man known simply as the "Beachy Head victim" remains a mystery.

Det Insp Riley said: "It is early days yet. We are confident we will find out who he is. Somebody must know who he is, somebody must be missing a son or father. And once you have an identity and you identify the murder scene, you can identify the offenders."