Police seeking clues to murder of British student in Italy

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The Independent Online

It is gruesome and mystifying. Forensic scientists of Italy's Polizia Scientifica worked all day yesterday inside and outside the pretty villa, with a view of hills ablaze with autumn colours, where Meredith Kercher was killed last Thursday night by a single deep slash to the throat. By the evening there was no indication that they were any closer to cracking the murder.

The 22-year-old from Coulsdon, Surrey, had taken a year out from her degree course at Leeds University to study Italian and political science in the Umbrian city of Perugia, which is a Mecca for foreign students from all over the world.

Her body was found on Friday in her room in the villa, covered by a mattress. Her blouse had been lifted, exposing her breasts, and her slacks were unbuttoned, Italian police sources said. There was no sign of a struggle – just the single deep cut to the throat that ended her life. The door of the room was locked and the key was missing. Blood was found on the window; if the killer went out that way he must have been athletic, as there is a drop of 15 feet to the patio.

Police were led to the house after finding two mobile phones belonging to Ms Kercher abandoned in a local park. The suggestion is that the murderer may have dropped them as he was making his escape. Nothing else appeared to have been stolen.

Yesterday the twisting medieval lanes of the old town echoed to the tramp of tourists admiring the cathedral, buying Majolica pottery, or sampling Umbria's famous wines and cuisine in the trattorias. But, for the residents and the hundreds of foreign students who come here to study Italian and other subjects, a pall of grief and fear hung over the city.

"This is a very quiet, calm city. The murder is an unprecedented thing to happen here. Everybody is very upset about it," said Stefanie Guanine, rector of the University for Foreigners, emphasising that Ms Kercher was not one of her students. "We are all waiting to find out what is behind it, whether it's a personal matter or something else."

Described by friends in the city as sociable, friendly and a good mixer who was also serious about her studies, Ms Kercher had last week plastered her Facebook site with photos of herself in Hallowe'en outfits. She arrived in Perugia for a year's stay just three months ago, and was sharing the house with three other female students: two Italians and an American.

Steban Garcia Pasqual, owner of a bar-cum-restaurant a couple of hundred yards from the house where Ms Kercher died, said she might have drunk in the bar, called La Tana dell'Orso, on the night she died, though he couldn't be sure. "About a hundred foreign students came in at about 10.30. She may well have been one of them. We know them by their faces not their names. They come in for Happy Hour, which is from 10 to 11."

Additional reporting by Maxine Myers

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