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Police covered up UK tourist murder - minister

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Police deliberately covered up the murder of a 15-year-old British teenage girl who was found dead in Goa last month, the state’s tourism minister said on Monday.

A handout photo released by the Keeling family on March 10, 2008 shows 15-year-old British girl Scarlett Keeling. Indian police deliberately covered up the murder of a Keeling who was found dead in Goa last month, the state's tourism minister said on Monday. REUTERS/Keeling family/Handout

Police originally insisted that Scarlett Keeling had drowned after taking drugs, but changed their story after Keeling’s mother kicked up a fuss and a second autopsy suggested she had been raped and murdered.

On Sunday, police arrested a man suspected of raping Keeling.

“This is a clear case of murder and it has gone out of proportion because the police tried to cover it up,” Francisco X. Pacheco, Goa’s tourism minister, told Reuters.

“The guilty police officers should be immediately suspended,” Pacheco said by telephone after holding a news conference in Goa.

“I have spoken to senior government officials and told them that inaction in such cases will give Goa a bad name and they have assured me strong action,” he said.

Indian media said there may have been an attempt to play down the death to protect the state’s tourism industry -- but this appears to have backfired.

Senior police officers said they were investigating the allegations of a cover-up and the actions of junior officers.

“There are certain things under my scrutiny and I have taken cognisance of all these issues, specially these officers,” Kishan Kumar, a senior police officer overseeing the probe told Reuters.

“We have sufficient evidence against the person we have arrested regarding rape and the mystery of murder will be solved soon.”

The arrested man, Samson D’Souza, 29, reported to be a barman in a beach shack, was brought to court on Monday. He has been sent to police custody for two weeks.

Keeling’s mother Fiona MacKeown always insisted her daughter had been raped and killed, and a second autopsy backed up her argument. It revealed bruises all over Keeling’s body, that her mouth was stuffed with sand and that she did not have enough saltwater in her lungs to indicate drowning.

Keeling’s case is the latest to highlight the safety of tourists in India. Tourism officials met this year to discuss attacks on tourists after at least seven foreign women and girls said they had been raped or molested.

Tourism minister Pacheco said he was worried about the safety of foreign tourists in India.

“This case will definitely hurt tourism, because it has gone out of proportion and I have got so many calls from people outside India,” he said.

Additional reporting by Alistair Scrutton