British aid worker 'stoned to death' in India

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A British charity worker whose body was found close to a church cemetery in northern India may have been stoned to death, his aid organisation said yesterday.

Michael Blakey, 23, disappeared from the Buddhist monastery where he was staying in the Dharamsala region three days before his remains were found in a narrow gully partially covered in stones on 28 November.

Indian police said they were treating the death as murder after the development studies graduate, who was working with refugee families, suffered extensive injuries to his head and face.

Mr Blakey, who was from Burnley, Lancashire, was found close to the cemetery of St John in the Wilderness, a church he attended near Mcleodganj, a former Raj hill station in the Himalayan foothills. He arrived in Dharamsala in June to work for the Edinburgh-based Tong Len Charitable Trust, which works with displaced Tibetan children and families.

Anna Owen, the charity's director, said: "The police have said that he may have died as a result of injuries inflicted by the stones. They do not have a motive. It is a peaceful area without any obvious threat. We have been told by the police that it is most likely that Michael was killed by someone unknown to him and possibly by more than one person."

Mr Blakey, who graduated from Swansea University and was due to start a PhD in London next year, had rented a room in the Kirti monastery in Mcleodganj, close to the headquarters of the Dalai Lama.

The town has become a refuge for Tibetans displaced from Chinese-controlled territory. Buddhist monks this week held a prayer ceremony in memory of Mr Blakey, who had become a well known member of the community.

He was a regular member of the congregation at St John in the Wilderness, a Victorian stone church where Lord Elgin, the British viceroy of India, was buried in 1863. It is thought his body may been dumped in the adjoining gully after being attacked in the grounds of the church.

There were unconfirmed reports that there have been attacks on the church in recent months but Dharamsala is not known for sectarian friction.

Superintendent Santosh Patial, of the Dharamsala Police, said: "Investigations are under way and we are hopeful of getting vital leads from the monastery room where the victim was staying. It is yet to be established why he was murdered." Mr Blakey had been due to fly to Britain to spend Christmas with his family before returning for a final six-month charity posting ahead of his doctorate.

Family and friends paid tribute to his tireless enthusiasm for the work of the charity, which he helped set up two years ago.

His father, Paul, 54, said: "Michael touched the lives of so many. He just wanted to go to India and help other people, but now we may never know what happened to him. "Michael was always a happy boy but never more so than when he was Dharamsala. He was doing what he loved best - helping others."

The charity said Mr Blakey had recently laid out plans to build a hostel for children it was helping in Dharamsala and said it was starting a fund to construct the building in his memory.

Shortly before his death, the Briton had written a blog about his regrets at having to leave the region. He wrote: "It's nice to think that at least you'll always have the memories. But when you've missed out on the memories that you could have had, you can't help but feel a little saddened."

The Foreign Office said it was awaiting the results of a post-mortem examination to establish the cause of Mr Blakey's death.