Oxford graduate killed by crocodile in Sri Lanka

Tributes have been paid to "dedicated" young journalist Paul McClean, a former Cherwell deputy editor who was killed in a suspected crocodile attack

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A Financial Times journalist who studied French at Oxford has died in a suspected crocodile attack in Sri Lanka.

Local police say they have recovered the body of Paul McClean, 24, one day after he was reportedly dragged into a lagoon by a crocodile while washing his hands in the water.

The reporter, described as a “talented, energetic and dedicated young journalist” by the FT’s managing editor, attended Lady Margaret Hall, graduating with first-class honours in 2015.

He spent his year abroad teaching English in the rural Ardennes, and translated for local police officers, being the only Englishman in the area.

McClean was also an avid contributor to Cherwell during his time at Oxford, becoming Deputy Editor of the newspaper in 2012. Writing for the i, McClean’s former Cherwell colleague Barbara Speed described his death as “an enormous waste”.

“Paul was a rare combination: thoughtful yet always smiling, hardworking but never over-serious, and friendly to everyone,” she said.

“He was willing, bright, hardworking, but most of all, he was nice. He was, as another of our student newspaper friends said after his death, a ‘fundamentally good person’. That isn’t something you can say about everyone.”

After leaving Oxford, he joined the FT as a graduate trainee, spending a few months reporting on Brexit and the EU in Brussels.

McClean had arrived in Sri Lanka a few days earlier and was staying at a nearby hotel with friends. It is believed he wandered off to use the toilet after a surfing lesson, and when he dipped his hands in the water at the lagoon known as Crocodile Rock, he was attacked and pulled into the water by the reptile.

Fawas Lafeer, the owner of the surf school, said that this was the first known crocodile attack that Sri Lanka has had, as crocodiles very rarely come to the beach on account of the blinding salt water.

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Divers found his body on Friday in the mud of the lagoon in the coastal village of Panama, on the east of the island. “There were six or seven wounds on his right leg,” a police officer told Agence France-Presse. A postmortem later on Friday will formally establish the cause of death.

McClean, originally from Thames Ditton, Surrey, had enjoyed playing squash and watching football, describing himself as a “long-suffering Evertonian”

Alex Barker, the FT’s Brussels bureau chief, praised the “one hell of a reporter” whose “magnificent” French helped him produce groundbreaking work about Brexit’s effects on the aviation sector and the fishing industry.

“Paul was an inspiration to us all in the Brussels bureau, turning out some of the most original, insightful, and deeply researched journalism on Brexit since the referendum,” Barker recalled.

“He had a rare gift: an eye for hidden stories, writing flair and the charm to make people tell him anything and everything.”

Another colleague added: “We’re all totally stunned. He was a great kid, an Everton fan, super bright. It’s an absolute tragedy.”