The manager of an Indian hotel where a Sarah Groves was stabbed to death on Saturday morning has said he was in love with her and that they were planning to travel throughout India. Miss Groves, 24, from Guernsey, was found with multiple stab wounds in her room on the New Beauty houseboat hotel on Kashmir’s Dal Lake. Police said the lock of her door had been forced open and she was found dead in a pool of blood by hotel staff, who had heard screams and an argument. A sharp knife was found near her body.
A Dutch man, Richard De Wit, 43, who was the hotel only other guest, was arrested on suspicion of murder on Saturday after he left the hotel in a rowing boat. He was later arrested in Qazigund, just under 50 miles away, where he had travelled by taxi, allegedly carrying only his passport.
On Saturday night, though, Samir Shoda, who manages the houseboat, was also helping police with their inquiries. He told The Sunday Telegraph that Miss Groves was his girlfriend and that he was devastated by her death. He said they had met during a holiday in Goa and that their relationship had developed after he had invited her to come to stay with him on his father’s houseboat.
“I was her boyfriend, maybe we would have married. I loved her more than my life,” said Mr Shoda, who sobbed as he spoke via a mobile phone from the same police station where Mr De Wit was held. He said that Miss Groves’ family were aware of their relationship. On Saturday night they declined to make any comment on the case.
Miss Groves was an accomplished hiker and climber, and scaled Mount Kilimanjaro to raise £3000 for the charity Child Reach. In her donation appeal, she said she worked as a fitness instructor and had won her bronze, silver and gold Duke of Edinburgh Awards. She had been staying in the houseboat since February 15.
On Saturday police said that Mr Shoda’s father, GM Shoda, who owns the houseboat, had told them that Miss Groves was “like a daughter” to him. Mr Shoda Senior said that he had sent his other son, Irfan, to investigate when he heard a commotion at around 2.30am.
Rape and murder potentially carries the death penalty in India. Last month, the country passed new tougher laws and sentences for sexual offences following the national outcry over the gang rape and murder of a 23 year old student in Delhi.
Since then two foreign tourists have been attacked: a Swiss woman who was gang-raped as she and her husband camped overnight during a cycling holiday in central India, and a British woman who jumped two floors from her Agra hotel room to flee an alleged sexual assault by the manager.
Mr Mujtaba said that the British victim and the Dutch suspect had not been friendly with each other and although they were both sitting on the houseboat deck on Friday night, they had not apparently spoken to each other. “The girl went to sleep at about 12 o’clock and the Dutch man was outside until 12.30am,” Mr Mujtaba added. “After that everyone, including the houseboat owner and staff went to sleep. At around 2.30am, they [the owner and his son] heard some cries, possibly some quarrelling.”
On Saturday night, Samir said that he blamed himself because he had decided to go out with friends rather than staying at home with Miss Groves. “I should not have gone,” he said. “I said come with me, but she said ‘you go and enjoy yourself, I will see how I feel without you for one day.’ I got a phone call from home, my brother and family found her. “I spoke to her Dad. He did not feel well and said he would call later. She was an amazing person. She understood everything, we shared our problems, everything, and now it is like this.”
On Saturday night it was unclear whether Samir was being treated as a witness or a suspect, although he said that the Kashmiri police had requested that he remain at the police station while their inquiries continued. A Guernsey Police spokesman said: “Family members have been informed and it is requested that their privacy be respected at this difficult time.”