Police: British Burning, Beating Victim May Have Been Sexually Assaulted

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday October 25, 2011

A British gay man whose charred and badly beaten body was found at the side of the road in a rural Scottish village may have been sexually assaulted, police say, according to updated reports.

The body of 28-year-old Stuart Walker, an openly gay bartender and resident of Cumnock, Scotland, was found in an industrial area of the town by a passerby at 5 a.m. on Oct. 22. Walker had last been seen at about 2:30 a.m., police said. The young man had been out with friends, and police speculated that he may have gone to a house party in a nearby subdivision.

"It is imperative that we find out where he was between 2:30 a.m. and 4:50 a.m. hours, whom he was with and why this happened to him," said Det. Inspector John Hogg.

"From our inquiries so far, we understand that there may have been a number of house parties in the nearby Netherthird housing estate in the early hours of the morning--between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.," Hogg added.

Police speculate that the brutal beating--which left Walker with "horrific injuries," newspaper accounts said--and his having been set on fire may have been motivated by anti-gay bias.

Early reports said that Walker's burned body had been tied to a lamppost, but police said this was untrue. Early reports also indicated that Walker's body may have been partially unclothed. Police said that the young man may have been sexually assaulted prior to being killed.

Divisional Commander of the Strathclyde Police John Thomson told the press that there was the "possibility of a sexual assault" against Walker by the killer or killers, an Oct. 25 article in British newspaper the Daily Mail reported. Authorities anticipate that autopsy results will show whether sexual assault did indeed take place.

Thompson also speculated that Walker knew the person or persons who subjected him to what Thompson called a "vicious attack."

"I don't think it was a random attack by someone who will strike again," said Thompson. "I suspect Stuart may have known this individual or met this individual shortly before his death."

Authorities have no evidence as yet that the killing was a bias crime targeting Walker for being gay, but the vicious nature of the killing and the possibility of sexual assault would not be out of character for a violent anti-gay hate crime. Thompson told the media that the question of whether Walker's sexuality played a part in the crime was a "main focus" in the police investigation.

"I am aware of all the speculation in the media regarding Mr. Walker and his death," Hogg told the press. "At this time, we have nothing to indicate that this is a homophobic crime.

"Until we know the exact circumstances surrounding this murder, we will not rule anything out and will keep an open mind on any possible motive for his terrible crime," Hogg continued.

Earlier, Hogg had verified that the young man's murder was "an extremely violent crime," the BBC reported on Oct. 24.

The community was "shocked and horrified" by the killing, according to a local government official, Adam Ingram, who told BBC Radio, "Stuart was a very nice young man, very popular and well-known within the Cumnock community, and their thoughts and hearts are going out to the family at the moment.

"It's shocking and horrifying, and it's come completely out of the blue," added Ingram.

The leader of a GLBT equality advocacy group spoke out, saying that the brutal slaying was troubling for the gay community.

"Stonewall Scotland are deeply worried that the police feel there may be a possibility that his death was a hate crime," said Colin Macfarlane, the head of Stonewall Scotland.

"Members of the gay community in Ayrshire are among more than 4,000 people who have visited a Facebook page set up in memory of Mr. Walker," the Daily Mail reported.

In fact, there are several Facebook pages now up in memory of Walker. One of them, "R.I.P. Stuart Walker," has nearly 11,000 "people who like this." Another, titled "Bring Back Hanging in Memory of Stuart Walker," has 803.

The Facebook pages provided a forum for comments. One individual posted a poignant note about living a life of isolation in a rural community.

"I know all about homophobia which is rife in my town which tends to live in the last century," the posting read. "The police will catch whoever did this to Stuart but nothing will change around here as they are stuck in the stoneage.

"Like Stuart I am not the only gay in the 'village' but sometimes it looks that way," added the posting. "RIP brother."

Walker had been employed at a local hotel before starting a new job at a bar mere days before his murder. A former hotel co-worker told the press she could not "believe this happened to such a great guy. I hope they catch those who did this to him. Hopefully justice will be served and I hope those who did this go to hell."

Walker's family also spoke out about the pain and heartbreak the young man's brutal murder had inflicted on them. Walker had missed his grandmother's birthday party, reported British newspaper the Daily Record on Oct. 24, and his relatives knew nothing of his slaying until after the festivities.

"We knew something was wrong because he was really close to his gran and wouldn't have missed her party for anything," said John Mullen, 28, a cousin to the victim.

"He was close to everyone who knew him," continued Mullen. "He was everyone's best pal.

"Whoever has done this has ripped our family apart and broke everyone's heart," Mullen added. "If anyone knows what happened, we would plead with them to come forward."

Anti-gay violence has been on the rise in Britain for several years. An Oct. 25 International Business Times posting referenced a Stonewall Scotland survey from last year that found many Scottish GLBTs were resigned to being targeted for vicious attacks.

"Too many people in Scotland experience hate crimes--and many don't report it, because they think it won't make a difference or because it happens on such a regular basis," the survey said. "A quarter told us they accept the abuse and the attacks as part of being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in Scotland."

"That attitude might change after Walker's murder," the IBT article said. "Not reporting abuse allows the abusers to get away with it. They, their peers and the next generation of Scots won't learn that hating (and hurting) someone because of their sexual orientation is not OK."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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