Thu, Jan 04, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Indian police say tourist lynched by villagers

THE GUARDIAN , NEW DELHI AND LONDON

A British tourist in India was lynched by a mob who believed he was harassing a local woman for sex, Indian police said on Tuesday.

Stephen Bennett, 40, was beaten to death by a gang of men led by the woman's husband, a senior police officer said.

The alleged killers then hanged him from a mango tree with a torn piece of sari fabric in an attempt to make the killing look like a suicide, said Madhukar Talpade, additional superintendent of police for the district.

Police said Bennett had been traveling from Goa to Mumbai by train when he got off at the town of Roha. He then traveled about 7km to a village called Malsai, where he approached a local woman who had left her house to go to the toilet in the early hours.

"She came inside and locked the door. [Bennett] came and knocked at the door. She then told her husband someone is outside and now is knocking on the door," Talpede said. "He saw somebody there and thought that this fellow was asking for sexual favors. So he got friends and with sticks and wooden blocks beat him."

Police said Bennett was beaten to death by at least six men. After he was dead, his body was dragged into nearby jungle and hanged from a tree.

Bennett's family have suggested he may have been lost and asking for directions, but police said that as the villagers did not speak English they had no idea what he was saying.

"We do not know why [he] was in the village," Talpede said.

Bennett, a father of two, had been on a week-long pre-Christmas break in India, arriving in the country on a tourist visa on Dec. 3.

Police found his passport, some money, and a railway ticket from Goa to Mumbai in his pockets.

Bennett's family say he was an experienced traveler who would have done nothing to provoke an attack.

"He was a friendly character, very affable and had been to Thailand and got on well with local people in the hills. He had probably been asking someone the way," Bennett's father said.

"He wouldn't have been doing anything wrong. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said.

His family said he had kept in regular phone contact until Dec. 7. "Following that we did not hear from him until the police contacted us on Dec. 12 and told us of his death," his father said.

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