An Oxford private school-educated businessman owns a Portuguese ‘off-grid’ commune that is at the centre of the suspected murder of a 35-year-old British man during a Blue Whale suicide game, it has been revealed.
Xavier Hancock, who attended £15,000-a-year St Edward’s School, set up his self-styled Libelinha Venture featuring white teepees in a remote forest valley near the central town of Pedrogao Grande after he ‘fell in love’ with the area in 2017.
Hancock, who set up the commune with his Spanish partner Arantxa Atauri, promises visitors to the site the chance to ‘reconnect’ with nature ‘during a journey towards self sustainability’.
But it was this ‘off-grid’ commune that formed the backdrop of a suspected murder over the weekend, with a 35-year-old British man allegedly stabbed to death by a fellow Brit close to Hancock’s land.
Hancock, a former scuba diving instructor, is believed to have hosted the 26-year-old suspect and the victim at the commune, which expands over 24 acres of woodland, before they allegedly got into a row while playing the Blue Whale suicide game – an online challenge linked to a series of deaths worldwide.
There is no suggestion whatsoever that Hancock or Arantxa are in any way involved in the crime, with the businessman insisting today he was ‘cooperating fully’ with Portuguese police today as they continued their probe.
‘As this is an active investigation, I will only answer questions from the authorities who we are cooperating with fully,’ Hancock said. ‘Once the official evidence has been released, I would consider sharing the story.’
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
Xavier Hancock (pictured with partner Arantxa), who attended a £15,000-a-year public school in Oxford, set up his self-styled Libelinha Venture featuring white teepees in a remote forest valley near the central town of Pedrogao Grande after he ‘fell in love’ with the area in 2017
Xavier Hancock set up his self-styled Libelinha Venture featuring white teepees in a remote forest valley in central Portugal
Pictured: Police officers prepare to lift the victim’s body, which has been placed in a grey box, into a waiting vehicle on Sunday
Nature-loving Hancock attended the £15,000-a-year St Edward’s school in Oxford before studying Product Design and Marketing at Solent University in Southampton.
He worked as a scuba diving instructor for five years before establishing his company Gozo Adventures on the island of Gozo in Malta focused on adventure tourism, according to his LinkedIn profile.
It was in 2017 that Hancock and his partner Arantxa bought land that would eventually become the Libelinha Venture, with the couple using volunteers from the UK to help with maintaining the land, gardening and cooking meals for guests.
Hancock boasts that because the commune is in the middle of a forest, ‘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’.
He added online: ‘The Libelinha Venture is a family run project that focuses on land regeneration and reforestation to give back to mother earth for future generations by creating a sanctuary for indigenous trees and forest wildlife.’
Hancock 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.
The 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, thought to have been drafted by Xavier and his partner, says: ‘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.’
But Hancock’s commune has now unwittingly formed the backdrop of the suspected murder of the 35-year-old Briton.
A 26-year-old man handed himself in and had reportedly confessed to committing the crime during the Blue Whale suicide game before police found the victim’s body.
It was not immediately clear today if the festival took place on the land Hancock or Arantxa own, although police sources said the suspect and victim had been at a party at the couple’s ‘off-grid living community’ before moving onto woodland outside the commune.
Nature lover Mr Hancock (pictuered), who was educated at the St Edward’s public school in Oxford and Solent University in Hampshire, looks after his land with the help of volunteers from the UK
Hancock, who set up the commune with his Spanish partner Arantxa Atauri, promises visitors to the site the chance to ‘reconnect’ with nature ‘during a journey towards self sustainability’
Xavier Hancock set up his self-styled Libelinha Venture featuring white teepees in a remote forest valley in central Portugal
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
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 suspect 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.
The suspect is due to be questioned later today by an investigating judge at a court in the city of Leiria, around an hour’s drive south-west of the crime scene.
Well-placed sources confirmed around 3.30pm local time the unnamed Brit had been driven to the court earlier today but his hearing, which will be held behind closed doors, had yet to start.
Although questioning is expected to start today, it may have to continue tomorrow in which case he would spend another night in police cells.
The judge will have to decide whether to remand the suspect in custody or release him on bail pending an ongoing judicial probe.
A state prosecutor would be present at the hearing as well as a defence lawyer representing the arrested man, who can refuse to answer questions if he wishes or only answer those of his lawyer.
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.
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.