Next week, after a short stay in Rome, I’m going on holiday in Umbria. I’ll be staying on the shores of Lake Trasimeno, an area that I don’t know well (I made a day trip to Castiglione del Lago in 2003, when I was in Southern Tuscany). The choice this year was an economic one: made after scouring the Internet for a cheap apartment. Before the age of international mass travel, Trasimeno was a popular vaction spot for Italians in the region (Umbria has no coastline) but is less fashionable today.

passignano sul trasimeno

Still, the countryside is pretty and the lake beautiful; and the location is quite central, with a load of “must see” places within an hour’s drive. Perugia, the Umbrian capital, is only some fifteen or twenty minutes by car.

I’ve been to Perugia about a half-dozen times, and I really like the place. It’s a small, manageable city, jam-packed with antiquities from all periods. I particularly like the fact that one of the original Etruscan city gates is still intact, and still in use after two and a half thousand years. Perugia also benefits from having a large and internationally-mixed student population, something that always adds to the cultural life of a city.

Sadly, of course, it was the fate of one foreign student that brought Perugia into the news. In November 2007, Meredith Kercher was murdered. It was one of those cases which, unfortunately, occur the world over — sexual assault and murder committed by a clumsy and incompetent attacker, who fled, leaving ample forensic evidence for the police to identify and arrest him.

Or, at least, that would have been the story, had not the police also arrested Meredith’s American flatmate, Amanda Knox, and Knox’s Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. The investigators were unsatisfied by the pair’s account of how they returned to the apartment around mid-day to find the crime scene of the night before.

Under what seems to have been very aggressive interrogation, Knox in particular was a very unreliable witness, drastically changing fundamental elements of her story several times. At one point, she even admitted to being in the flat and hearing Meredith scream as she was murdered. Characteristic of her constant lying was that she made specific allegations against a totally innocent man, Patrick Lumumba, owner of the bar where she had a part-time job. That detail is suggestive. Why make up a totally ficticious scenario, except perhaps to please her police interrogators if they happened to “suggest” to her that a black African man was involved?

No such evidence was ever presented in court, and yet the actual murderer, identified by ample DNA evidence and later convicted, was black: Rudy Guede, from Côte d’Ivoire.

The position of Knox and Sollecito was not enhanced by the fact that the chief prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, is notorious in Italy for a penchant for conspiracy theories and stories of satanic abuse. And in fact, the prosecution case in the trial of Knox and Sollecito (Guede was tried separately and found guilty) was that Knox, Sollecito and Geude had pressed a releuctant Meredith into a violent sex ritual or game, which had got out of hand.

It sounds like a lurid fantasy, and I’m convinced that it is exactly that. Yet Knox and Sollecito were convicted of murder (by a panel of magistrates, not a jury) and sentenced to long jail terms.

I’m very sure that Knox and Sollecito are innocent of murder. The suggested scenario of their involvement just does not ring true. Yet, it’s clear that they’ve been lying, and as far as I can see, have never told the truth. Why? What really happened? I can only guess that, in their youthful innocence, they did not realise that in a murder case, all other considerations were unimportant. Perhaps they arrived at the crime scene and removed their stash of drugs before calling the police. Perhaps there is some other explanation.

There is an appeal trial under way which has already exposed problems in the evidence and witnesses used to convict Knox and Sollecito, but it will be some months yet before a new verdict is issued. It looks black and white to me, but you never can tell.

It’s sad that a murder case should make Perugia world news, rather than the good things, like jazz and chocolate, or the quaintly futuristic minimetro. During my holiday, I’ll probably spend at least a couple of days in the city. It’s a beautiful place.



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