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Wednesday 15 August 2018

Exclusive - 'I'll never, ever get over what happened to my Danielle', says devastated mum

Nearly a year after Danielle McLaughlin was found dead in India, her mother tells Laura Larkin about her fight for justice

Danielle McLaughlin
Danielle McLaughlin

The heartbroken mother of Danielle McLaughlin has said she will "never, ever get over what happened" and may travel to India to confront her daughter's suspected killer.

Donegal women Danielle was killed while visiting India to learn to be a yoga teacher.

She was found dead in Goa on March 14 last year, and a local man, Vikat Bhagat, with whom she had been friends since 2016, is to stand trial accused of her rape and murder.

Danielle's mum, Andrea, spoke to independent.ie about the past year and the stress she feels to cover legal bills to ensure her daughter gets justice.

"Every day just seems like the one day. It only seems like yesterday that I last spoke to Danielle, but it also seems like months ago," she said.

"I spoke to her that day. I spoke to her every day on the phone, if I didn't speak to her on the phone she messaged me. Because I worry, she'd send me a quick message to say, 'I'm OK'.

"On the 13th, she messaged me and I was on the way to Dublin for a hospital appointment with her wee sister, and she Facebooked me and said she was with her friend and with him, the accused, and she was safe.

"She classified him as a friend, she called him brother."

Orphanage

Danielle was well travelled and had spent time in Nepal, India and Australia. She had planned to train in Goa as a yoga teacher and then travel to Canada in September.

It was her second time in India. A year earlier she had volunteered in an orphanage there.

"She packed a lot into her life. I wish to God I had told her to stay, to never travel nowhere, not even Liverpool, but then she wouldn't have been the person she ended up being," her mother said.

Ahead of the trial, Andrea has been granted a special status, which allows her to be party to proceedings and gives her the right to question witnesses alongside the prosecution and defence.

She has hired a lawyer in India to represent her, and has engaged legal services here.

The family has already paid thousands in legal costs since Danielle's death. However, they are only a part of the way there and will not know the full extent of the costs until the case concludes.

"I don't feel I've grieved for Danielle because of the fact that I'm always worrying about money, constantly worrying all the time," Andrea said.

"There's not a day that goes by that I'm not thinking, 'Am I short now? What happens then? Will we have no lawyer? Will it end up then that Danielle gets nothing?'

"It's wrong, it shouldn't be this way, but I am constantly worrying about it."

There has been consistent fundraising since Danielle's death - thanks to the family's close-knit local community and Danielle's friends - to help cover these costs, but Andrea said she would prefer to be able to concentrate on Danielle and grieving for her.

"I know if it was one of her sisters or her friends that this had happened to, Danielle would be shouting from the rooftops and fighting for justice," she said.

Andrea was also shocked to learn that the Department of Foreign Affairs can act only in an advisory capacity when a family loses a loved one abroad. There is no fund to cover repatriation costs, legal bills or any associated costs.

The question that has stayed with Andrea is, why did such a thing happen to her daughter?

"I would like to know why? My question is why?," she said.

"Why destroy her trust? Why take away my lovely daughter? Why let the world miss out? Her sisters miss her terribly, her friends miss her.

"The world has lost a lot in losing her. She could have done so much good in the world."

Andrea says she may travel to India for the final part of the trial and also reserves the right to meet on a one-on-one basis with the accused.

Her daughter was spirited and kindhearted, and in the year since her death, friends of hers from all over the world have been in touch with Andrea, sharing stories about Danielle and revealing the ways she touched their lives.

"If someone asked me to describe her I couldn't explain it because she was just amazing. She was an amazing daughter, an amazing sister and an amazing friend," Andrea said.

"She was so loud all the time and wild busy, always dancing.

"She had a brilliant, brilliant nature about her and she was very, very smart."

Despite travelling around the globe, Danielle was always willing to drop everything and return to her hometown of Buncrana at a moment's notice to help her family through tough times.

She was the eldest of Andrea's daughters and was an "amazing sister". Another of Andrea's daughters, Eire Rose, died aged just 10 weeks in 2006.

Danielle's little sisters, who she called "the girls", were "her life", Andrea added.

"She used to Skype them all the time and message them," she said.

Heart

"I just miss her so, so much. One of my girls was saying earlier today that she misses just the fact that Danielle was there.

"She was the big sister and the one they would have gone to if anything was bothering them.

"I'll never, ever, ever get over what happened to Danielle, ever. When I lost my other wee girl, Eire Rose, it changed me as a person but what he's done, he's ripped out part of my heart.

"I'll always have six girls, four here and two in another world."

Anyone wishing to donate can do so by visiting the website truthfordanielle.com or by visiting any Ulster Bank and saying they would like to donate to The Truth For Danielle Fund, with an account in Ulster Bank in Buncrana.

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