Sonali Phogat Case: How Curlie's in Goa Was Linked to Scarlett Keeling's Murder

As the mystery around Sonali Phogat's death unfolds, we look at the Scarlett Keeling case that rocked the state.

4 min read
Hindi Female

Haryana BJP leader Sonali Phogat, who died under mysterious circumstances last week, had visited the popular Curlie's restaurant in Goa's Anjuna on 22 August. The next morning, she was brought dead to the St Anthony Hospital in the same North Goa district.

The restaurant, frequented by locals and tourists alike, is one of the most famous joints in Goa. But this isn't the first time that Curlie's has been embroiled in a scandal. It was in the limelight 14 years ago over another scandal – the murder and sexual assault of British teenager Scarlett Eden Keeling in 2008.

As the mystery surrounding Sonali Phogat's death unfolds, we take a look at the Scarlett Keeling case that rocked the state.


What Happened to Scarlett Keeling?

Hailing from Devon, 15-year-old Keeling had come to India on a six-month holiday in May 2008 with her mother Fiona MacKeown. Her mother's boyfriend and her seven siblings and half-siblings were also visiting the state.

According to her mother, Keeling wanted to stay back in Anjuna while the rest of her family made a plan to visit Karnataka.

The family decided that she would stay back with Julio Lobo, a 25-year-old local tour guide. In February, Keeling joined her family in Gokarna. However, she told her mother that she wanted to return to Goa, around Valentine's Day, to attend a party at Curlie's.

That party would be the last time people saw her alive.

Later, eyewitnesses would tell the court that on the night of 17 February 2008, Keeling was spotted at a shack on the beach. According to Murli Sagar, a key eyewitness, Keeling was then found with the two men, local bartender Samson D'Souza and his colleague Placido Carvalho, two hours before her body was found.

That night, the 15-year-old's bruised and half-naked body was found on the popular Anjuna beach in the north of Goa – on the same night as the beach party.

A Botched Investigation

The police initially said that the cause of Keeling's death was "accidental drowning" but her mother insisted on the autopsy. "They were saying it was an accident. I knew she hadn't drowned accidentally," MacKeown told The Guardian in 2016.

A delayed post-mortem examination showed traces of drugs in the teenager's body, but it also revealed 50 cuts and bruises – evidence of a sexual assault. MacKeown's lawyer Vikram Varma pointed out that D'Souza had drugged her, raped her, and left her unconscious face down on the beach.

Within 24 hours, D'Souza was arrested, after which Carvalho was also held.

On 5 June, the case was taken over by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), booking the two accused for culpable homicide. The trial began in 2010, two years after the incident.

"I want to know who murdered Scarlett and why, but I don't believe that will ever really happen," MacKeown told BBC in 2016. "What I hope will happen is just to know that some justice has been served, so the life of the rest of my family can get back to something like normal."

The accused were acquitted of charges of rape and culpable homicide at Goa children's court in 2016. There were over 70 witnesses in the case, many of whom did not testify before the court.

One of them was a crucial British witness, who had told the cops that they last saw the schoolgirl lying in the car park by Lui's Bar. The witness added that he saw her with a local bartender D'Souza "lying on top of her." But he, too, did not testify during the trial in 2016.

MacKeown told The Guardian she thought it was over. "You think you're coping but you're not. When I look at the pictures of myself coming out of court [on the day the men were acquitted], I look like I'd been slapped," she had said.


Fight for Justice

The trial was delayed by over the years, with the media raising questions about MacKeown's parenting, scrutinising the family's day-to-day lives, and publishing commentaries on the dead teenager's private life, among others.

After the trial court acquitted both D'Souza and Carvalho in September 2016, giving them the benefit of doubt and citing the lack of conclusive evidence and lapses on the part of the prosecution, prosecutor Ejaz Khan sought the maximum sentence that would serve as a deterrence to other criminals.

The CBI later challenged the ruling in 2016. In its petition, the CBI stated that the judge in the children's court acquitted the men despite not having "applied her judicial mind both on points of law and on facts of the case."

In 2019, the High Court of Bombay court found D'Souza, 39, guilty on five counts – culpable homicide not amounting to murder, sexual assault, administering a stupefying substance (drugging), abusing a child, and causing the disappearance of evidence. On the other hand, Carvalho, who was charged with abetting these offences, was found not guilty and acquitted.

The 15-year-old's mother said the 10-year sentence was "a year less than it's taken us to get this far."

In a diary entry, the teenager had pre-empted that her visit to India would be the "trip of a lifetime." And so it was.

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Topics:  Goa   Rape and Murder   Sonali Phogat 

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