Five years on from the murder of Scarlett Keeling in Goa, her mother Fiona MacKeown is still fighting for justice, while struggling to rebuild her own life. Pilloried in the tabloid press for her bohemian lifestyle, she’s been forced to confront claims that her decision to leave her 15-year-old daughter alone under the watch of an older male friend set the scene for the tragedy of her death at a drug-fueled beach party.
“I blame myself to a certain extent because I trusted the people that I left her with,” she told The Independent from her home in Brandiworthy, north Devon this week. “I was never negligent with Scarlett, I was naive in terms of the country we were visiting but I never didn’t care about her.”
Scarlett’s body was finally returned to her mother last year, after being held for four years by Goan authorities and the Devon coroner, and is buried in the family garden.
In February 2008, Ms MacKeown’s family had been travelling in southern India. After spending time together in Anjuna, a popular spot with the ex-pat hippy community, the rest of the family moved on leaving Scarlett behind to work for a few days before she joined them later along the coast, which she did. Days before they were due to head further afield towards Kerala en masse, Scarlett asked if she could go back to Anjuna for a Valentine’s beach party.
“I said ‘no’ at first but then I gave in,” her mother recalled. “I will regret that decision for the rest of my life.”
The morning after the party, Scarlett’s bruised, lifeless body was found swept-up on the sand. Despite an initial autopsy showing the girl – who had consumed ecstasy, cocaine and LSD before her death – had been raped and her face held down in water, the men charged with the attack were said to have left her on the beach to drown and were charged with causing her death rather than murder.
Now Ms Mackeown is calling for a fresh investigation with the two men on trial, Samson D’Souza and Placido Carvalho, tried for murder.
At the time, blame was piled on Scarlett’s mother by some for having left her young daughter under the supervision of another man, who she insisted was not her daughter’s boyfriend as was reported. While any initial progress in Scarlett’s case soon petered out, reports about her mother’s lifestyle choices including false benefit claims and past relationships gathered steam in the tabloid press. Yet the 52-year-old remains pragmatic.
“I don’t feel like I’ve been done a disservice, I made my own choices, but Scarlett loved being part of this family. She loved life, she was a really happy, well-balanced kid who didn’t really ask for anything. She was a normal teenager until she got to Goa.”
On the fifth anniversary of her death, Ms MacKeown is furious that no-one has been brought to justice for her murder, with the two main suspects currently on bail.
She is also angry at the Foreign Office for “continuously failing” her daughter by not persuading the Indian legal system to fast-track the case.
“I don’t know what’s happening with [Scarlett’s] trial. I don’t know where the case is at, I’ve contacted the Foreign Office but every time they say they’ve put in a request to India and they’re waiting to hear but no one is getting back to us. Nobody has ever contacted me to keep me updated, not at any stage.”
For Ms MacKeown and her eight surviving children, every day is overshadowed by “frustration” at the local authorities in Goa.
“It is as if they’ve tried to forget what happened or they hope I’m going to forget. But I’m not going to go away, I’m going to keep going until I get an answer for Scarlett.”
Ms MacKeown wants to draw attention to an increasing number of sexual attacks on female tourists in parts of Goa. “A lot of mothers are going through the same thing I am, and no-one in charge in Goa wants to know.”
She is sure the local authorities in India are involved in a cover-up: “A lot of people know what happened but they won’t speak out because they are frightened. There is so much fear.”
The MacKeown family now is frozen in limbo: “None of us has been able to move on. People say you get closure but I think that’s a lot of rubbish. When you lose a child it breaks you and it changes you and you have to learn to go on and be changed.
“Losing a child is bad enough without the frustration of it not being dealt with properly,” she adds. “But I’m going to keep going, I’m not going to give up. Until I get some kind of justice I’ll be a thorn in their sides.”