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Who's the real

PerugiA, with its rolling hills, would have looked very beautiful to students Meredith Kercher and Amanda Knox, offering them not only a scenic place to study, but their first taste of freedom away from their families.

Before tragedy struck, the two housemates would have been enjoying the type of adventure that only comes once in a lifetime; not quite standing on their own feet, yet as young adults abroad in Italy, not quite answerable to anyone else either.

Yet nobody could have foreseen anything major going wrong; Meredith Kercher was, after all, a 21-year-old British student who had just begun a one-year course in modern history, political theories and history of cinema at the University of Perugia as part of the Erasmus student exchange programme. Her ambition was to become a journalist like her father.



gripping

John Kercher, who has described Meredith 'as smart and always smiling', couldn't for a second have imagined his capable daughter becoming the centre of one of the most gripping and sensational murder trials of recent years.

After leaving her family at home in Surrey, Meredith embarked on her adventure by sharing a house with three other women, two Italian students, and American student Amanda Knox. Also 21, Amanda was an American exchange student attending the University of Foreigners for one year to study Italian.

She was also an unlikely murder suspect and, like Meredith, was a pretty young woman from a solid family, described by friends as a pacifist hippy who loved making cakes and jam, yoga, playing soccer and guitar, and cycling.

The heinous charges against Amanda have been well-chronicled, beginning almost after police entered the student accommodation in November 2007 to find Meredith's body on the floor under a beige quilt, her throat fatally cut.



sadist

The world's media was also immediately transfixed by the Italian prosecutor's assertion that the young American could apparently transform from a dedicated student to a smiling sadist who, alongside her Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, stood accused of committing murder during a drug-fuelled sex game.

Stories continued to flood newspapers during Amanda's appeal against her conviction for murder and her acquittal earlier this month. Now her release has thrown open the case again and questions over what really happened on that fateful night need answering more than ever.

Journalist John Follain has been covering the case since the beginning and has been seized by the spectacle of an intelligent woman with the world at her feet wrongly accused of sexually abusing and murdering another young woman. It's understandable he would have been tempted to write a book about the murder case he knows so well, and which has gripped so many.

Yet has he jumped the gun to be first on the shelf after Knox's acquittal? Death in Perugia, Follain's account of the case, has been published less than a month after Amanda won her appeal against her 26-year jail sentence -- so what new information or insights could it possibly have to offer? There are questions to be asked, yet answers take time to appear, as do new investigations and interviews.

Follain covers Italy and the Vatican for the Sunday Times and has previously published the book City of Secrets: The Startling Truth Behind the Vatican Murders.

He set about investigating the murder of Kercher on every level and visited the cottage where she was murdered, interviewed Amanda in a Perugia prison, and travelled twice to Seattle to interview her family.

Death in Perugia is the first book about the crime following Knox's release from prison and in its almost indecent haste to get into the shops this week, further fuels the speculation that every publisher in the States would love to sign up Amanda. Indeed, her story is expected to generate millions for everyone involved in its telling. It is, after all, every parents' nightmare, beginning with the pride involved in sending two young students abroad to secure their future ambitions, to all hope being shattered with the brutal murder of one and the unwarranted demonisation of another.



questions

At first glance, Follain hasn't succeeded in uncovering anything new to assist the Kercher family in putting an end to the questions about the murder.

A perusal of the book doesn't throw up any breaking news either about the conviction of Rudy Guede, the Ivory Coast drifter who is the only person still serving time for Meredith's murder. And how could it, being published only three weeks after Amanda's acquittal?

Follain's journalism undoubtedly added immensely to the coverage of the fight for justice for a British citizen murdered in Italy. Yet regurgitating it all in a book hasn't served anybody or any purpose outside of book sales. We'll be waiting much longer for the answers to the pertinent questions about how Meredith Kercher died. If we ever get them.

Death in Perugia: The Definitive Account of the Meredith Kercher case by John Follain (Hodder, €10.55) is available now