The trial of two men accused of killing the 15 year-old Devon girl Scarlett Keeling starts today. Her body was found on an Anjuna beach in Goa in February 2008.
That the matter has reached this point at all is down to Scarlett's tenacious mother Fiona MacKeown who battled with Goan authorities. Initially, local police said the girl had drowned. But later forensic evidence revealed she had been violently attacked and raped before death.
No doubt a larger corrupt story lies behind this attempted cover-up. Several years ago I toured India as a member of a press party. In Goa the guy from the Financial Times popped out for a ride on a motorbike and was stopped by local cops. They told him he would be arrested if he did not pay them a sum of money and keep quiet about it: he gave them cash. Neither in his travel piece nor mine was any mention made of the encounter, probably to save our generous Indian hosts embarrassment. But I vowed never to return to Goa. Something is plainly rotten in its police force.
How some British newspapers have treated Fiona is worth re-examination. Her hippy appearance and lifestyle offended a great many of the lower middleclass neurotics paid a great deal of money to parade their neuroses. The Daily Mail's Allison Pearson excelled herself in March 2008. "Fiona MacKeown... seems less like a grieving mother than an avenging tigress," she wrote, as if any normal mother would not want justice for her dead child. She then went on to claim that Fiona herself was responsible for her daughter's death for leaving her in the care of a local tour guide she hardly knew.
But what upset Allison more than anything else was the idea of a "free-living" woman taking her family on a dream trip to India - "an unrepentant member of the Me Generation" as she put it - as opposed to being an uptight, probably unhappy and certainly overworked hack who allows people to think she's married to her live-in partner to placate a seething hateful readership. Somehow, Fiona had brought this tragedy on herself, because she had rejected convention just as Allison embraces it like a moronic teen clubber seeking a meow meow high.
Sarah Sands, in the Independent, echoed the Pearson line, albeit in a gentler, more caring way. "She may have been a free spirit, but Scarlett was also a child. Fiona MacKeown put ideology before humanity," simpered Sarah, who herself gives a good impression of ylang ylang-scented New Age-lite enlightenment, but ultimately is just another careerist conformist peddling the standard (and Evening Standard) line on a whole array of topics.
What astonishes me is the callous disregard for Fiona MacKeown and for her dead daughter: both are just cultural weapons to beat an offending lifestyle. I will be interested to see what these two media slags have to say about the Keeling case when all the facts emerge.