Suicide raises more questions for police in Witchalls inquiry

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Police investigating the attempted murder of Abigail Witchalls have travelled to Australia to interview the former girlfriend of a man who committed suicide at Kinlochewe in the Scottish Highlands two weeks ago.

Richard Cazaly, a 23-year-old garden centre worker, lived very near the spot in the Surrey village of Little Bookham where Mrs Witchalls was stabbed in the neck in front of her 21-month-old son, Joseph, on 20 April.

He disappeared five days after the attack and died five days later from liver failure following an overdose of paracetomol.

Police are examining three handwritten notes, one addressed to Cazaly's mother, and a balaclava, along with a selection of knives found abandoned in his car in a forest near Inverness. Police said he was only one of 40 suspects being sought in connection with the case.

It is believed he had recently separated from his girlfriend, named by former colleagues as Vanessa. She had since returned to Australia. The couple lived along with two other garden centre workers, both Australian, in a nondescript semi-detached house in Water Lane, Little Bookham, where the BBC was filming a Crimewatch reconstruction yesterday.

Forensic scientists are examining samples of DNA taken from Cazaly in an attempt to match them to samples found on Mrs Witchalls' child's buggy and elsewhere at the scene. The results are not expected for "some time", police said.

However, detectives said they would consider showing Mrs Witchalls a photograph of the dead man to see whether she recognised him as her assailant. Mrs Witchalls, who has been left partially paralysed by the attack, is receiving treatment at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital.

Police believe Cazaly may have driven the 600 miles to Inverness because of previous links with the area. He worked for two years as a chef in a hotel on the Isle of Skye and had done some travelling in the Highlands. A manager at the hotel where he worked described Cazaly, who wore Aboriginal or African-style jewellery and had a three-quarter-inch ear piercing, as "aggressive" and a "real nasty piece of work".

He stopped his car in a forest track, just outside Kinlochewe, on 27 April. At 2am he phoned an ambulance. He was taken to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, about 45 miles away, where he gave officials a false name and particulars. As his condition worsened, he told nurses his real name and next-of-kin details. Surrey Police learnt of his death when contacted by hospital officials.

Cazaly, who is thought to have had no criminal convictions, had previously been interviewed by officers conducting house-to-house inquiries in the village and at a random road check. Suspicions were aroused when police heard of his departure to Scotland. Cazaly also drove a blue Volvo 440 - now being examined by police - the same colour as the car Mrs Witchalls said the knifeman was driving.

However, despite the similarities between the dead man and the description of the attacker, police stressed there remained important differences.

Mrs Witchalls said her assailant was clean-shaven with scruffy brown hair, while Cazaly had a goatee beard and short hair. She also said her attacker was wearing hooped earrings - different to the ethnic jewellery worn by Cazaly.

Staff at the Isles Inn in Portree, where Cazaly worked as a chef for six months in 2003 before being sacked, described him as "frightening".

An assistant manager, Kim Miller, 24, said: "I was petrified of him. He just had a bad and frightening look about him. I was glad when it was all over and he got out."

She added: "He was a strange-looking character - a real nasty piece of work. He was quite aggressive, with a real attitude problem. That was why we got rid of him."

A former colleague at the garden centre where he worked described him as a "depressive" who did not like to mix.

Neighbours of the dead man's widowed mother, who lives in Fleet, Hampshire, said they believed he had taken his life after becoming depressed over the break-up with his girfriend. They described the family as "perfectly pleasant".