Another tragedy in backpackers' haven as Briton dies of suspected drug overdose

There was little left to show of a life cut short in a £2-a-night hotel room just a stone's throw from paradise. There were some old T-shirts, a handful of undeveloped films and a battered journal filled with jottings and sketches. The rest of Michael Harvey's belongings had been taken away by police looking for clues.

Mr Harvey, 34, from Manchester, was found dead in his room at Laura's Guesthouse in the Goan resort of Ashwem Beach on Saturday morning, having checked in the night before, sweating heavily and "appearing drunk or something", according to the owner. A postmortem examination concluded Mr Harvey died from a pulmonary and cerebral oedema and police are now investigating whether a drug overdose was the cause.

Mr Harvey was the second British citizen to die in the past fortnight in Goa, a tropical playground that has long been favoured by European tourists for its beguiling landscape and easy-going lifestyle. But many believe Goa also has a darker, more dangerous edge, both as a result of tourists failing to take basic safety measures and a seedy drugs culture that permeates many of its resorts. In 2007, 40 Britons died here from natural and unnatural causes, while there have been 10 deaths so far this year, according to the British consulate in Mumbai.

"Goa is a very safe place, there is no doubt," the state's chief minister, Digambar Kamat, said. "But there are some stray incidents that we are trying to avoid. The tourists come here to enjoy themselves but they should also be a little careful."

Yesterday, Mr Kamat met the mother of 15-year-old Scarlett Keeling, the other British tourist to be killed here. Her family insist she was raped and murdered two weeks ago on Anjuna Beach, about half an hour south from where Mr Harvey's body was found, and that the local police are covering it up. Mr Kamat promised Scarlett's mother, Fiona MacKeown, that there would be a full investigation into the teenager's death and that if any foul play was discovered, the authorities would get to "the root of it".

The family said they were hopeful after their meeting and that Mr Kamat's attitude appeared to have changed since he confronted Mrs MacKeown on a news programme the previous evening and appeared to blame tourists for many of the crimes. "It went very well, it felt like he listened," said the family spokeswoman Dakini Runningbear.

While millions of tourists travel to Goa each year, the coming together of Indian and European culture is not always easy. Foreign women sunbathe topless on the beaches, drug- and drink-fuelled parties roar on into the night and tourists overrun the narrow roads on scooters which they drive without helmets or shoes. Common sense and cultural sensitivity are not always priorities. "I think the Goans are horrified by us," said a Scottish woman who has been coming to Anjuna for years, and has local friends. "If they didn't need to do business with us they would not."

John Fernandes, the owner of Laura's Guesthouse, said he had seen the state change tremendously in the past decade. "Lots of foreigners are coming in," he said. "The [locals] want them to come."

Yet when foreigners do fall through the cracks or else fall prey to some of Goa's more illicit offerings, many people say the police do little to help. It has long been alleged that tourists caught with a small amount of drugs might be forced by police to pay a bribe – either financial or sexual – to avoid criminal charges.

Amanda Bennett, whose brother Stephen, from Cheltenham, was found hanging from a mango tree after he disappeared from a train travelling between Goa and Mumbai in December 2006, has accused the police here of repeatedly lying to her over his death. She said they had even refused to let her formally lodge a First Information Report (FIR) to make them launch a criminal investigation. "The police refuse to allow it despite a continued effort from my family," she said.

In the case of Mr Harvey, who was due to return to Britain in less than two weeks, police are adamant there is no evidence of foul play. But Police Superintendent Bosco George said they were investigating whether drugs played a role in his death. "We will take everything into consideration," he said. "It is quite possible he did have some drugs."

Loui Vangelder, from Liverpool, who occupied a room next to Mr Harvey at Laura's Guesthouse, said he believed the fellow Briton had fallen foul of the darker side of Goa. Just a few weeks ago, he said, a Russian friend addicted to drugs had died in hospital from blood poisoning. He said the hospital had shown little interest in his friend's condition when they realised he was addicted to drugs.

Mr Vangelder, who spends each winter in India, said he was outside his room when Mr Harvey checked in on Friday evening and that he was sweating profusely. He added: "I'm from Liverpool. I see these people all the time... He was another Goan train-wreck."

Andrew Buncombe's Asian (con)Fusion at: independent.co.uk/asiablog

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'