Trauma for pregnant charity worker as friend killed, husband suspected
SHE is a nurse who went to stay among the poor of India with dreams of improving their lives. But the world of charity worker Rachel Owen in the hills of northern India has fallen apart after the murder of a colleague.
Michael Blakey, 23, was found bludgeoned to death in a stream - and police suspect the killer is Ms Owen's husband of just five months, Pawan Bhardwaj.
Ms Owen, from Edinburgh, married Bhardwaj in July - and Mr Blakey had been staying with the couple at their home in Dharamsala.
Local police believe that Bhardwaj, 26, may have killed Mr Blakey because he could not accept his 35-year-old wife's friendship with him.
Yesterday, Ms Owen - who is six weeks pregnant - wept in a courtroom as she heard an extract from Mr Blakey's diary saying that her husband had threatened to kill him.
Police remanded Bhardwaj in custody for ten days and are looking into the accounts of the Tong Len charity to see if they can find any clue to the violent murder.
Mr Blakey and Ms Owen were both working for the charity, which was set up by Ms Owen's mother to help the poor in the area.
Ms Owen's husband had admitted that he found it difficult to cope with his wife's friendship with Mr Blakey - but he insisted he could never kill anyone.
The two men argued, and Mr Blakey moved out to live in a nearby Buddhist monastery. Just days after writing in his diary that Bhardwaj had threatened him, he was dead.
His body was found last week under a pile of rocks near the Church of St John in the Wilderness, Upper Dharamsala. Police say that he was murdered with severe blows to the head, probably with rocks.
Bhardwaj has admitted that there were difficulties in the relationship. He has said: "I was upset and I conveyed that to my wife. But I would not kill someone - even in my dreams. I am being harassed by the police for no reason."
Local people who know Bhardwaj say it is difficult to imagine he could be guilty of such a violent crime.
Speaking before her husband's arrest, Ms Owen had conceded that there had been friction between him and Mr Blakey, but said: "I am certain my husband is innocent - besides, we can account for each moment when the murder took place. He was with me all the time."
Mr Blakey was reported missing on Monday last week, after he failed to turn up to a regular meeting of the charity, which helps bring education and healthcare to poor Indian migrants living on the outskirts of the northern hill station, where the Dalai Lama is based as the head of the Tibetan government in exile.
Ms Owen said in court that her husband, a caf worker, had disliked the way Mr Blakey came into the couple's living space when the three were sharing a house.
She said he had complained that Mr Blakey was always coming into their part of the house at all hours. It was after this argument that Mr Blakey moved out and went to live in the nearby Kirti monastery.
Ms Owen, who has lived in Dharamsala for 18 months, is convinced that her slightly-built and softly-spoken husband is not responsible for her co-worker's death.
An alternative theory is that Mr Blakey may have been killed after intervening in a brawl locals heard near the church where his body was found.
Yesterday, Ms Owen's mother, Anna Owen, who co-founded the Tong Len charity, began the journey from Edinburgh to Delhi, from where she will face a 13-hour bus journey rising high through the mountains to rejoin her distraught daughter in Dharamsala.
Before leaving the UK, she said that she had been aware of the difficulties in her daughter's marriage. "Pawan couldn't understand the western ways of men and women working together," she said. "That was what gave him trouble."
Ms Owen's father, Professor Gareth Owen, a former vice-chancellor of Heriot Watt University and the treasurer of Tong Len, vowed that the work of the charity would continue - and paid tribute to the courage and spirit of Mr Blakey.
"He was a wonderful, kind, generous person. It was very unusual for a person of 23 to give so much to help people in another country," Prof Owen said.
"This is a difficult time for everyone, but our hearts are first and foremost with Michael's mother, father, brother and sister. We want to set up a memorial fund in his name. Michael would want to see this work continue."
He said the young aid worker, who was a committed Christian, had done fine work persuading the Indian authorities to ensure poor, young children were given the chance to go to school.
The Dalai Lama is understood to have sent a personal letter of sympathy to Mr Blakey's parents in Burnley, Lancashire.
Prof Owen said he was very concerned about his daughter's health and wellbeing.
He said it was "a very difficult time for everyone" and added: "She is about six weeks' pregnant and she has previously had miscarriages, so it is very worrying. I speak to her on the phone every three hours." Prof Owen said it was hard to work out what was happening in India: "I won't really know what is going on until my wife gets there."
He said he had met Bhardwaj at the couple's wedding in July. He said the marriage was a joyous occasion, with a ceremony that lasted three days and guests came from miles around.
"He is a very quiet-spoken guy. I took to him when I met him. I liked him - but these are dangerous parts of the world. Wherever you have extreme poverty, you have danger."
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