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Was this the UK's worst anti-gay hate crime?

Police refuse to rule out homophobia as motive for brutal killing of man in Ayrshire

A man whose beaten and burnt–body was discovered near a Scottish industrial estate on Saturday may have been forced to remove his clothes before being subjected to a vicious and sustained attack.

Stuart Walker, 28, was only partially clothed when his body was found around the corner from his family home in the former coalfield community of Cumnock in Ayrshire.

It was reported yesterday that the attack on the barman may have been motivated by homophobia but detectives said they were keeping an open mind – and were convinced his death was not a random attack.

Chief Supt John Thomson of Strathclyde Police said they were following up several lines of inquiry and he was confident that "whoever is responsible will be brought to book sooner rather than later".

Det Insp John Hogg, leading the inquiry, said police were not aware of Mr Walker's identity when his body was found on Saturday morning. he had not been tied to a lamppost, as initially suggested.

A missing person's report had been filed after he had failed to turn up at work and to a family engagement, leading to his being identified.

A post mortem examination has also confirmed that while Mr Walker was subjected to burns he had died from other injuries, which are not being disclosed.

Yesterday as well-wishers left flowers at the murder scene, Mr Walker's family – described by police as "devastated" – stood in silent tribute. An aunt, who asked not to be named, told The Independent: "He had just gone for a night out. We don't know who with. He was so loveable, popular and friendly. He had a little sister who he loved dearly. No one gave him any hassle and he always had time for everybody.

"People can't believe how he was so close to so many people. If you want to know about him – just read the cards on the flowers. He was so loved and it is so sad."

Mr Walker, who had just started work as a barman in The First Edition bar and restaurant in Kilmarnock, spent Friday night socialising and visiting friends' houses. He was last seen by a family friend, who spoke to him, outside the fire station in Cumnock. Policed said Mr Walker was on his own at the time – around 2.30am – and had been drinking.

His body was found at 4.50am as people were leaving several house parties in the area and shift workers starting work on the industrial estate.

Chief Superintendent Thomson said: "I can confirm it was a very violent and sustained attack on Stuart. I do not believe at this stage that this was a random attack. There may be the possibility he knew his attacker or attackers."