Murdered Chinese graduates came to Britain to improve their lives

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The Independent Online

The hard-working Chinese couple who were killed in a "savage and brutal attack" on Saturday came to Britain to get a good education and improve their lives.

The deaths of Xi Zhou and her boyfriend, Zhen Xing Yang, both aged 25, at a flat in the Arthur's Hill district of Newcastle upon Tyne's, an area known for its multicultural population, has sent shockwaves through the local community.

Police said the couple fought hard against their attacker or attackers, both suffering defensive injuries. They received severe head wounds while the post-mortem examination revealed that Ms Zhou, known to her friends as Ci-Ci, may have been suffocated.

With no evidence of a break-in, it is believed the assailant was likely to have been known to them as detectives sought to reassure members of the Chinese community in the North-east that everything was being done to find those responsible.

However, police, who have released a video of the couple, said they were still unclear as to the motive for the attack, having already ruled out a Triad or ritualistic dimension, though they refused to be drawn on whether the victims had been tied up or if there had been any evidence of sexual assault.

Both graduated from Newcastle University with good degrees two years ago, Detective Superintendent Steve Wade of Northumbria Police said. Ms Zhou, from Hunan province in Southern China, had studied for a Masters in applied linguistics and worked at a Wagamama restaurant in the city centre where she was a well known and popular member of staff. Mr Yang, whose relatives have yet to be traced, completed a Master of Arts degree in international human resources at the same time. His occupation is not known. They are believed to have met in Newcastle and then moved in together.

Det Supt Wade paid tribute to the couple, saying: "They were nice, hard-working respectable people who have come to the UK for the best of reasons, to get a good education."

Describing details of the crime scene, he said the killer would have been covered in blood. "It was a vicious attack, there was a lot of blood and I think in any interpretation that was a frenzied attack. We will work around the clock to catch those responsible."

The couple were discovered at their ground-floor flat by three friends on Saturday afternoon. Unable to get a reply, they climbed through a rear window before discovering Ms Zhou's clothed body and alerting the police. Mr Yang, who was still wearing his pyjamas, was found in the back bedroom by police. Detectives said both had valid visas which were due to run out this year and Ms Zhou had relatives in the UK.

Ms Zhou was last seen leaving work on Thursday afternoon but did not turn up for her shift the following day. Mr Yang's last known contact was in a brief telephone call with a female friend on Wednesday.

Police continued to make house-to-house inquiries in surrounding streets yesterday as they sought to build up a picture of the couple's lifestyles.

They urged anyone with information to come forward. Pastor Eddy Tang, of the International Christian Fellowship for Newcastle, helped police to reassure the Chinese community, which includes around 10,000 students across the North-east.

He said: "People are being very subdued at the moment and they are in mourning."