Owner of 'off-grid commune' is 'cooperating fully' with police

UK-educated owner of Portuguese ‘off-grid commune’ says he is ‘cooperating fully’ with police after Brit, 35, was knifed to death ‘during Blue Whale suicide game’ near his woodland camp

  • Xavier Hancock is believed to have played host to a group of UK visitors that included both the suspect and the 35-year-old victim in Portugal 

The owner of an ‘off-grid commune’ in Portugal where a 26-year-old British man arrested on suspicion murdering a fellow Briton was staying today said he is ‘cooperating fully’ with police.

Public school-educated Xavier Hancock is believed to have played host to a group of UK visitors that included both the suspect and the 35-year-old victim who was stabbed to death in woodland near his land in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Initial reports said the Briton was allegedly attacked after a row broke out between a group of friends while they played the notorious Blue Whale suicide game, the online challenge which has been linked to a series of deaths around the world.

The 26-year-old man handed himself in and had reportedly confessed to committing the crime during the game before police found the victim’s body with a series of stab wounds in remote woodland near the central town of Pedrogao Grande.

But Portuguese daily Correio da Manha reported today the suspect was one of the organisers of a weekend festival and had been worrying about paying for land he had rented because of poor ticket sales caused by bad weather in the run-up to the event.

It was not immediately clear today if the festival took place on the land Mr Hancock and his Spanish partner Arantxa Atauri own, although police sources said the suspect and victim had been at a party at the couple’s ‘off-grid living community’ called Libelinha Venture before moving onto woodland outside the commune. 

There is no suggestion whatsoever Xavier or Arantxa are in any way involved in the crime Portuguese police were continuing to probe today.

Public school-educated Xavier Hancock (pictured with his Spanish partner Arantxa Atauri) is believed to have played host to a group of UK visitors that included both the suspect and the 35-year-old victim who was stabbed to death in woodland near his land in the early hours of Sunday morning

 Pictured: Police officers prepare to lift the victim’s body, which has been placed in a grey box, into a waiting vehicle on Sunday 

The victim, who has not been named, was allegedly attacked after a row broke out between a group of friends while they played the notorious suicide game, the online challenge which as been linked to a series of deaths around the world

Nature lover Mr Hancock, who was educated at a public school in Oxford and looks after his land with the help of volunteers from the UK he puts up in Sioux Indian style tepees and tents, said: ‘As this is an active investigation, I will only answer questions from the authorities who we are cooperating with fully.

‘Once the official evidence has been released, I would consider sharing the story.’

Police confirmed yesterday they were initially told the British man’s death was linked to an argument that started while he and his friends were playing the Blue Whale suicide challenge.

The online game has been linked to numerous deaths around the world and consists of initially innocuous tasks before introducing elements of self-harm.

But sources close to the investigation subsequently insisted they had found no evidence there was a Blue Whale link to the death.

Correio da Manha claimed today the suspect had only mentioned the game ‘after having confessed to the crime’ as a way of ‘explaining the situation that led to the macabre death.’

The alarm was raised around 6.30am on Sunday and the suspect reportedly admitted stabbing his alleged victim before taking police to the remote woodland spot where his body was.

The knife investigators believe was used to kill him was found alongside the body, left in a small clearing in woodland close to the village of Figueiro dos Vinhos about a 15-minute drive from the town of Pedrogao Grande in central Portugal.

Footage published by Portuguese daily Correio da Manha showed police lifting the dead man’s body on a stretcher after it was covered with a sheet and putting it into the back of a nearby van.

A waiting Red Cross ambulance took it to Coimbra after officers reached the nearest tarmacked road.

A post-mortem is thought to have taken place yesterday in the university city of Coimbra, although the results have not been made public.

Police officers lift a grey box containing the victim’s body into a waiting vehicle

Police found the victim’s body in remote woodland between the localities of Poco Negro and Soalheira, near to the central town of Pedrogao Grande, on Sunday. File image of area near Pedrogao Grande

The Policia Judiciaria police force in Coimbra is also in charge of the ongoing investigation and has not yet been made any official comment.

But a well-placed PJ source said: ‘The suspected author of the crime has been arrested. The circumstances including the possible motive are still under investigation.

‘Both the victim and the man arrested on suspicion of killing him are British’.

Detectives spent Sunday questioning three men and two women, including the Briton described as the chief suspect. They are said to be part of a group of UK and Dutch citizens living in a commune close to the crime scene, it has been revealed. 

It was not immediately clear this morning how many of the five Britons who are being questioned by police will be ordered to appear before a judge in court and when the court appearance will take place.

Well-placed sources said both the 35-year-old victim and suspected murderer had been part of a larger group of around six British people who had been living in the ‘off-grid living community’ and were due to fly back to the UK in about a week’s time. 

One well-placed source said the suspect and other Brits questioned by police on Sunday as witnesses had been at a party at a campsite inside the community grounds before leaving to go to nearby woodland outside it where the stabbing occurred. 

Another police source said: ‘A group of about half a dozen people the suspect and dead man were part of were staying at a campsite near to the place where the victim’s body was found.

The group that raised the alarm are thought to have attended a private party on Saturday night with the victim and that in the middle of the night they went to an isolated woodland area to start the Blue Whale Suicide game

‘It appears they had attended a party there earlier that night before leaving to head for the woodland where the stabbing happened.’

The group are understood to have been planning to fly back to the UK in about a week’s time.

No official information has yet been released about when the suspect will appear in court.

The hearing will take place behind closed doors and a judge will have to decide whether to remand him in custody or release him on bail pending an ongoing judicial probe.

Mr Hancock, who describes himself as a digital creator on social media, has spoken about ‘falling in love’ with the forest valley near the picturesque village of Figuero dos Vinhos where he and his partner created their community in a forest valley.

He has organised fundraising campaigns online to plant over 6,000 trees, shrubs and bushes on his land and subsequently keep them alive during a drought in the area.

Volunteers wanting to take part in the family-run project focusing on land regeneration and reforestation are offered ‘Glamping’ accommodation on site as well as food.

A write-up on one online site offering volunteers the chance to get involved says: ‘We are trying to create something that is becoming rare in this day and age. The unique opportunity to disconnect, while enjoying life by living simply surrounded by nature, in a remote enchanting forest valley.

‘We are looking for volunteers who will join us for a month or more, who bring good energy to the land and community, who take pleasure in giving and are willing to get involved in a wide range of projects to help create the vision.

‘Living in a remote forest valley means we are only allowed to have temporary structures for accommodation so we offer Glamping. and for those of you who don’t know, Glamping is a fusion of glamour and camping, it is where nature meets modern luxury. No longer do we have to simply witness nature, we can live in it too. Without having to sacrifice any of the creature comforts.

‘Our Sioux Indian style tepees are set up in woodland meadows in the shade of large oak trees, on terraces that run along the side of the river. We believe that there is nothing more healing than sleeping with the sounds of the forest and river. For those who prefer something quieter, there are smaller terraces away from the river with views over the valley.

‘Living in a forest means we are totally off-grid, creating the rare opportunity to disconnect from the usual connections in modern day life, allowing us the time to enjoy the natural surroundings as well as the people around us.’

Respected Portuguese broadcaster SIC said the group often held parties and played the Blue Whale game – but there were contradictory reports in local media about whether the group of Britons had been playing at the time of the murder.

The lethal Blue Whale ‘game’ involves 50 tasks in as many days, aimed at ‘creating psychologically traumatising situations’, ending with suicide.  

Participants join a ‘group’ where the tasks are set by a group ‘administrator’ and can range from watching horror movies to waking at strange hours, and eventually progresses to self harming.

On the 50th day, the controlling manipulators behind the game, which originated in Russia in 2015, reportedly instruct the participants, who are usually teenagers, to kill themselves.

The game, which reportedly started in Russia, has caused numerous deaths around the world, including Ukraine, India and the United States. 

First reports about its victims appeared in Russia in 2016, and in 2020 police in Britain issued a warning to parents to be mindful of their children’s online activities, urging them to talk about the dangers they can face.

At the time, Northants Police said: ‘We are aware of a disturbing social media challenge circulating called the ‘Blue Whale Challenge’ which encourages teenagers to take part in a series of 50 challenges that culminate in committing suicide.

‘This challenge first appeared in 2016 and tasks are given online or through text messages, instant messages or posts on Instagram and Twitter. 

‘Please talk to your children about the dangers and tell them not to open any messages or challenges of this kind.’ 

In 2016, Russian Philipp Budeikin, then 21, claimed to have invented the game three years earlier.

He was arrested and convicted on two counts of inciting the suicide of a minor. He also admitted to ‘inciting at least 16 teenage girls to commit suicide’.

A Siberian court sentenced him to three years in jail in July, 2017.

Having at first claimed he was ‘just having fun’, the former psychology student, who was expelled from his university, later said his intention was to ‘cleanse society’.

In May, a Ukrainian mother of a school boy who survived the Blue Whale suicide ‘game’ shared her concerns that the abusers ‘will hunt her son again until they kill him’.

Mother Olga Tkachenko and her son, Mykyta Kovalchuk, ten, (pictured together) shared their story during a talk show and warned others not to get hooked by the perpetrators who drive children and teenagers to suicide, and shared her concerns that they ‘will hunt her son again until they kill him’

Last September, Mykyta Kovalchuk, ten, (pictured on life support) jumped from a six-storey balcony in Kyiv while carrying out his final challenge given him by a Blue Whale mentor

Olga Tkachenko and her son, Mykyta Kovalchuk, ten, shared their story on a talk show and warned others not to get hooked by the perpetrators who drive children and teenagers to suicide.

‘I want to warn parents about such situations that break the lives and destinies of many,’ said the mother in a recent television interview.

Last September, Mykyta jumped from a six-storey balcony in Kyiv, Ukraine, while carrying out his final challenge given him by a Blue Whale ‘mentor’.

It happened after Mykyta came home from school feeling not well and Olga left their apartment to buy medicine to reduce his fever.

While she was away, the boy reportedly drank some alcohol, went to the balcony and climbed to the windowsill.

He drew Valentine’s heart on the glass of a balcony window before stepping out, according to reports.

When mother returned home, she met police officers and neighbours near the front door of her apartment. They told her that Mykyta had just been taken to hospital in critical condition.

‘He was a well-behaved child and good at studying. He had everything he needed. I could not understand how it could happen to him and to my family,’ Olga said.

For Mykyta’s luck, he avoided fatal damage to his internal organs or bones after falling from 66ft height.

‘Mykyta was in severe condition but his spinal cord was not damaged and it gave us hope,’ the mother said.

The next two months the boy spent in hospital, half of this period in intensive care.

Today, nine months after the incident, he is doing well physically, but his mother believes that ‘his abusers will hunt him again and that his life is still in danger’.

‘I live in constant anxiety and fear for my son’s life. I fear they will find him again to get the job done this time,’ Olga said.

If you have been affected by the contents on this story, confidential support can be found by calling Samaritans on 116 123, or by visiting samaritans.org. 

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