Slaughtered in the U.K.

  • 2008-09-18
  • By Monika Hanley

FULL OF PROMISE: Days before his murder, Kozans had been thinking of returning to Latvia.

RIGA - Ritvars Kozans, 23, left Latvia to work in the U.K. as an electrician two years ago. A Latvian family he was close to said he hadn't been himself this spring, that he was "prepared for the worst," and that he had even expressed a desire to return to his home country.

Kozans was found dead on May 30; the cause of death was internal bleeding and a blow to the back of the head, according to the coroner's report. Six British citizens  have been charged with involvement in the murder.
Kozans is not unique. Murders of Baltic citizens in the U.K. and Ireland have quadrupled in the past two years, an increase that many attribute to animosity among the locals over competition for jobs in a period of economic instability. But in Kozans' case, a more specific motive continues to elude investigators.

Police think the murder was a result of an argument over money. But Kozans' mother, Zeltite Kozane who runs a homeless shelter, disagrees. "He owed nothing to anyone," she said. Kozans had returned home for Christmas in 2007 but hadn't been back since.
Kozans was a diligent worker, and his employers grew worried when he didn't show up at work. Police later found his body in a garbage storage area, and his car was found on the side of the road, miles from his apartment.

Cameras in Kozans' apartment complex recorded six people entering his building and leaving later with his body. The fact that the alleged fight was six against one raises the specter of gang violence and may exemplify a general resentment among citizens of the U.K. and Ireland against migrant workers there, almost all of whom are EU citizens.

Detective Chief Inspector Jan Meagher, who is leading the investigation, says he's found much of the community to be cooperative. Kozans' mother, however, says she can't say the same of the police. "A lot is 'no,'" she said. She's been fighting for the return of her son's body to Latvia for four months, traveling between Latvia and the U.K., and still no return date has been set. Transporting the body will be very expensive, too.
But  Kozans mother is Catholic and feels strongly about a proper burial. "I just want my son back so he can rest at peace," Kozane said. "How long must he stay there in a freezer alone?

"He did everything so that people would be happy. He even bought his girlfriend a horse," she said.
The six people accused of the murder, two women and four men, have all refused to take a lie detector test. Even the family of Kozans' girlfriend has refused to talk, raising suspicions that the murder was more than just a simple crime of passion.

The highly publicized case is bringing to light tensions between U.K. and Irish nationals and migrant workers from Eastern Europe. Some, like Kozans mother feel that the workers there are treated as second-class citizens. "If a U.K. citizen was murdered by six people in Latvia, there would be so much outrage. But they saw my boy as an outsider, as something dirty and unworthy," she explained.
Some commentators disagree. Louise O'Dwyer, an Irish national and journalist who lived in Lithuania says that most of the crime among these communities is the result of drug smuggling and problems that have followed them from home. "Quite a lot of the drug busts in Ireland are found to be connected with Eastern Europeans," she said.

Kozans relatives say he didn't fit the bill. He was a smart, kind person who had grown up in a Catholic family and had a strong moral compass, his mother said.
"The Irish people have welcomed people from the Baltics and they have integrated well. Unfortunately, there are incidents with the minorities that reflect poorly on the country as a whole," O'Dwyer said.
O'Dwyer also pointed out that most of the crime directed at Lithuanians and other Eastern Europeans is perpetrated by other members of these minorities.

These cases are seemingly endless. Sergejs Lavrinovics, a Lithuanian, was accused of the murder of Igors Bandarenko, a Latvian, who was found in a harbor with his ankles tied to an anchor.
In April, Vitas Plytnykas, 40, and Aleksandras Skirda, 19, both Lithuanians working in Scotland, were charged with the murder of Lithuanian Jolanta Bledaite, 35, also a migrant worker. Two local children discovered her head and hands in a sports bag on a beach in Arboath.

But the majority of immigrants settle in quite well
 "There are interpreters in our schools who speak Russian and Polish, and booklists, et cetera, are often translated. The highest growth in adult education is in the language sector, with Russian and Polish being the two most sought-after classes," O'Dwyer said
The highly publicized Kozans murder comes at a time when both the U.K. and Latvia are on shaky economic footing. More than a few Balts have even returned from the U.K. and Irelandas prospects have improved in their home countries.

But for Kozans mother that reversal is too little, too late. On her desktop at work are some flowers, a candle and a large photo of her son. "Our love for him will never fade," she said, lighting the candle.

Passionate Murder

Though most of the murders that have been committed against Balts are motivated by xenophobia or economic gain- in the case of the criminal underworld- there are instances that are clearly crimes of passion.
In the U.K., Baltic and other Eastern European women have become known for their beauty and there are stories in the British press about fights breaking out over them in schools and clubs. In one instance things turned more deadly.

When Egeli Rasta was murdered in summer 2006 it was a real tragedy for her family. Rasta came from a poor family and had gone to the U.K. to earn money for her family.
Rasta, 27, was raped and murdered by Gareth Davies, a man described as a loner whose DNA was found all over her body.

Gareth Davies, 23, was jailed for life for the murder in July 2007.
He claimed at the trail not to remember what had happened.
"When I've been upset my brain goes off a blur. Half the stuff I don't remember," Davies said at his trial.
The evidence against him was overwhelming. Police found a knife stained with Rasta's blood at his apartment, her clothes in his rucksack and her mobile phone in his pocket.

Rasta who worked for Harrods Department store, used to run and sunbathe topless in a London park. The killer who lived nearby had developed an obsession with her.
Davies went so far as to download music on to Rasta's phone on the day of her disappearance.
"Davies said he didn't have any friends. He only had his dog, a Staffordshire terrier named Tyson," the prosecutor said at his trail.

The prosecution destroyed Davies's case.
"He didn't remember how he got the mobile phone. He had just woken up and it was there on the table in the house. He didn't know where it had come from," the prosecutor said.
Now Rasta's mother has only a few photographs to remember her by.