'Drugs link' over mango tree murder

Indian police claim that British man mysteriously beaten to death was a 'small-scale dealer and addict'
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A British man clubbed to death and strung up from a mango tree in India was involved in dealing drugs and was himself an addict, police officials in Goa revealed last night.

The disclosure has added fresh intrigue to the seemingly baffling motives behind the murder of Stephen Bennett, 40, from Cheltenham, who Indian police initially claimed was lynched by a gang of men who thought he had tried to rape a local woman.

It was also revealed yesterday that Mr Bennett's parents will travel to the remote village where he was found hanging to discover for themselves why he was killed.

Four men have been charged with the murder of Mr Bennett, but yesterday it emerged that Indian police are also investigating the possibility that the killing may be linked to the drugs trade, amid allegations that Mr Bennett had been arrested in the UK for growing marijuana plants shortly before he flew to India in December.

Police officials in Goa said that Mr Bennett was known to be "a small-scale drug dealer and addict" - a charge which was strongly denied by the dead man's family. Gloucestershire police said they were unable to comment on the allegations.

Nearly a month after Mr Bennett's death, the Indian police inquiry has been dogged by delays and allegations of falsified evidence, and Mr Bennett's parents hope that their arrival in India will force the authorities to investigate the case fully.

Mr Bennett's father, Carol, said: "Perhaps our physical presence out there will get to the truth of what really happened to Stephen."

Investigators are currently piecing together Mr Bennett's movements after he arrived in India on 3 December. His initial destination was the tourist beaches of Goa, but within days, Mr Bennett had grown desperate to leave.

In a series of increasingly frantic phone calls to his family, he told them that he was being threatened by two local men and feared that he would be killed.

Detectives have yet to explain how or why Mr Bennett, a one-time actor and self-employed builder, arrived in the isolated village where he was murdered on 10 December.

Mr Bennett's family believe that he was abducted and taken to Malsai, a collection of mud and brick houses some 250 miles from Goa. But they have been unable to suggest a motive for the kidnapping.

Mr Bennett's body was found hanging amid scrub a few hundred metres from the village. He had been strung up with a piece of sari, apparently to disguise the murder as suicide. He was still carrying his passport, £300 in cash and a train ticket for the Mandavi express, which left Goa on 7 December and stopped at the town of Roha, four miles from Malsai. The ticket was not punched and investigators are uncertain whether he boarded the train.

Police believe that early on 10 December Mr Bennett apparently frightened a local woman who told her husband and neighbours that he had tried to rape her. Four suspects are said to have confessed to the murder, but locals have accused the police of using torture to extract the confessions.

The woman whose honour the lynch mob was supposedly trying to defend also denied all knowledge of Mr Bennett. Nirmala Mene told the BBC that the police had bullied her into putting her thumb-print to a document which officers later said was her statement.

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