Gareth Huntley: Backpacker's 'throat was slit', locals claim

Detectives are investigating claims that Mr Huntley was involved in a fight before he disappeared

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The Independent Online

Malaysian detectives investigating the death of British backpacker Gareth Huntley are reportedly looking into claims that the 34-year-old was involved in a fight shortly before he disappeared and may have been murdered.

Local tour guides on Tioman Island have claimed that Mr Huntley’s throat had been slit, The Telegraph reported.

Police confirmed Saturday that a body found on Wednesday was that of Mr Huntley – it was discovered near a pond a few yards from a kayak storage unit near the Juara Turtle Project where he had been working.

The accountant, who was on a sabbatical from his job in the City, had set off from the turtle sanctuary on 27 May, saying that he would return at 2pm the same day, but failed to come back.

Mr Huntley’s family issued a statement following the tragic discovery, thanking “everyone who came together in the last week to do everything in their power to help find Gareth”.

“There are no words that can capture the devastation we feel right now; no words that can capture the kindness, warmth and spirit that Gareth exuded; no words can describe the void he will leave in all of the lives he touched,” they said.

Mohammad Zakaria Ahmad, the senior police official heading the investigation in Malaysia, confirmed he was investigating reports of a fight involving Mr Huntley.

He told The Telegraph: “These are rumours but we are looking into them”

And Ab Razib Ali Awang, the village chief, said most locals believed that something bad had happened to the backpacker.

“I’m not sure if the project [people] are making a false report or maybe not telling the police everything. After three days [of searching] the local people did not believe he was in the jungle, they know, they’re experts and searched every trace ... There are rumours that there was a fight before with a foreigner,” he told the newspaper.

A tour guide on the island, who asked not to be named, said: “Some of the beach chalet owners have been told by police that his throat had been cut.”

Police did not confirm the claim.

Mr Huntley’s mother, Janet Southwell, flew to Malaysia to assist the search on Monday, after telling the BBC she wanted to be there “when they find him”. Last week she appealed to the Prime Minister David Cameron to assist in the search by "making one phone call" to Malaysian authorities.

Mr Huntley’s body was flown to Kuantan for a post-mortem but, as the corpse was badly decomposed, the cause of death is not yet known. A second opinion has been sought from another pathologist, with hopes that an answer can be established next week. 

Ms Southwell had given blood to hospital staff so they could carry out a DNA comparison.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said: "Malaysian police have now confirmed that the body found on Tioman Island is of Gareth Huntley.

“The Foreign Office will remain in close contact with the Malaysian authorities and our staff continue to support Gareth's family at this tragic time.”