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The Ashika murder mystery remains

Avinesh Gopal
Tuesday, August 26, 2014

IT is almost seven years now since a woman's decomposed body was found.

The woman had arrived in the country from Australia on October 22, 2007, and it was said she was killed on the same day.

When she failed to meet her parents and siblings in Fiji on the day she had told them, the family started panicking and they began a search for her.

An appeal was made by the family and even the police in the media for information to help locate the missing woman.

But it was not until November 2 when the news that the family had not wanted to hear was relayed to them — the decomposed body of Ashika Lata Macartney had been found.

The police launched an investigation and the woman's husband was charged with her murder, sentenced to life imprisonment and later acquitted after an appeal.

As part one of a series on the murder, The Fiji Times takes a look at the life of Ashika and talks to her parents, who are still waiting for answers today.

ASHIKA Lata was born in a sugarcane farming family in Rakiraki.

She was the second youngest in a family of two boys and two girls — all offsprings of Rajendra Prasad and Sheila Wati.

In 1992, the family decided to move out of Wairuku and start a new life at Nadera in Nasinu.

After leaving school, Ashika worked at a few places and she was working at an Asian shop in Suva City when she met an European man.

They got acquainted and their meetings reportedly increased, resulting in the man, namely Simon Macartney, making a marriage proposal to her, sometime in 2002.

"Ashika came home and told us about Simon and that he wanted to marry her. She told us he was a very nice man and I left the marriage decision on her," said Mr Prasad in an interview.

"They got engaged and Ashika went to Australia a few times with Simon before they got legally married on February 17, 2005. She moved to Australia later that year.

"We were in constant contact when she was in Australia and she had received her permanent residency status there only one week before she came to Fiji on October 22, 2007."

Mr Prasad said Ashika's husband was in Fiji for about 11 months before her arrival on October 22. "They had problems when she was in Australia. It was not anything personal but it had to do with something else that Ashika knew.

"She called us and told us a few days before that she would be in Fiji on October 22 and not to tell her husband as she wanted to give him a surprise.

"Ashika told us that after visiting a few places, she would come home on Wednesday, October 24 and we were waiting for her.

"While she had told us not to tell her husband that she was coming, she herself called him and he went and picked her from the Nadi International Airport.

"We waited for Ashika on that Wednesday and when she didn't come, we started looking for her, first by calling her husband's mobile phone which was unreachable."

Mr Prasad said the family searched for Ashika at all possible places they could think of she may have gone to, as she had told them of visiting some places before meeting them on Wednesday.

"But we didn't have the slightest idea that something bad could have happened to her, that she could have been murdered," he said.

On October 29, we published a news article in which the Prasad family had appealed for any information to locate Ashika. There were other appeals made by the police in the media to find the woman but there was no solid information until November 2.

Some villagers at Deuba had discovered the body of a woman, who was later identified by her family members as Ashika.

On November 3, we reported that the missing woman's body had been found.

It was reported on November 6 that Macartney had appeared in court charged with Ashika's murder but the Director of Public Prosecutions Office had moved to file a nolle prosequi.

On November 7, we reported that Macartney was set free by the court after the DPP filed a nolle prosequi and withdrew the charge as there was insufficient evidence.

The police took Macartney in for questioning again and he was once again charged with Ashika's murder and produced in court on November 12.

He was remanded in custody and a trial was later held and he was found guilty by the High Court in Suva of Ashika's murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

But Macartney appealed against his conviction and sentence and after serving some time in prison, he was acquitted.

The murder had generated a lot of interest locally and even abroad, especially in Australia as Ashika had obtained her permanent residency status there and Macartney was living there for some time.

After Macartney's acquittal, Mr Prasad wrote to the various higher authorities on January 11, 2011, raising some serious issues about his daughter's case.

"But it's sad that I have not received a reply from any of the high offices that I wrote to regarding the case. I gave my phone number too in the letter but no one called me until today," said Mr Prasad.

He told this newspaper that Ashika was wearing her jewellery when her decomposed body was found in Deuba by some people.

However, he said, Ashika's other belongings and jewellery worth thousands of dollars were never returned to them after the case.

A list from the court shows that a Lorus ladies gold wrist watch, a gold bracelet with white stone, three gold chains, a mangalsutra, a gold ring with white stone, a metal ring, a gold toe ring with white stone, a gold toe ring, a plain gold bracelet, a gold bracelet with white stone, two pairs of plain gold earring and a gold earring with white stone were kept as police exhibits.

The exhibits also included a big grey suitcase, a small black suitcase, some clothes, a plastic bag containing broken bottle and a bottle of Rum.

Mr Prasad said documents they had stated the exhibits were returned to a police inspector but their enquiries about the exhibits had led them nowhere.

He said the jewellery were worth about $15,000 at that time.

Ashika's brother Ritesh Prasad said the family did a lot of running around in Ashika's case, saying "we are sad and frustrated that nothing has been done until today as far as the issues we raised are concerned".

"She was coming back home after two years and we all were eagerly waiting to meet her. She was supposed to celebrate Diwali with us after two years," he said.

Ritesh said the upper half of his sister's body was decomposed because it appeared to have been in the water.

Mr Prasad said all preparations were in place for the family to celebrate Diwali with Ashika but it was rather sad that they held her funeral on that auspicious day in the Hindu calendar.

* NEXT WEEK: "Who killed Ashika?" asks father

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