By David Livingstone
A large shark, believed to be a feared great white, has been lurking in waters where a British backpacker lost his life, police said last night.
Mortuary attendants have been asked to check if the body of 30-year-old Michael Utley, recovered from a beach in Albany, WA, shows signs of a shark attack.
However police could not immediately confirm if the Briton had been attacked or had drowned after being caught in a fierce current which had battered and bruised his body.
Police Sergeant Bob Scott based at Jerramungup, near the town of Albany, said the shark had been seen as evening was setting in and the darkness prevented it from being identified.
‘A helicopter which was involved in the search did go closer to investigate the shark, but it went down into deeper water,’ he said.
‘Just the fact that it was in the area was a psychological factor but it didn’t affect the search.’
Mr Utley, from Bolton, went missing in the ocean off Native Dog Beach on Saturday and it wasn’t until early yesterday that his body was found on neighbouring Dillon Beach, fronting Bremer Bay.
A team of more than 100 rescuers, including police divers, surf life-savers, supported by helicopters and boats had combed the area.
The body was found by volunteer searchers and while it has to be formally identified police sources said all the indications were that it was the Englishman.
While a possible shark attack is being investigated, police are also looking at the possibility that Mr Utley ran into trouble when he was caught in a strong current as he swam with four friends.
The rip was so fierce that Mr Utley’s friends were washed ashore on a beach around the coast from where his body was ultimately found.
‘It’s a pretty rough coastline and the conditions were atrocious where they went in to have a swim,’ said Sergeant Scott.
Mr Utley, a plasterer, had been on a working holiday in Australia since December last year.
His twin brother Mark, who lives in Westhoughton, Bolton, said his family had been ‘keeping the faith’ and hoping that Mr Utley had been carried ashore still alive onto a part of the coastline, which stretched for miles.
‘As soon as they were faced with the waves, they all knew they had to go back to the shore,’ said Mr Utley.
He had been told by police before his brother was found that there was a shark in the water and police were not ruling anything out.
Michael’s mother, Susan, who lives in California, was last night flying back to the UK from Germany with her husband Graham Liles, who works there.
Before the tragic news came in that the body found on Dillon Beach was almost certainly that of Michael, Mark said, ‘I had spoken to him on Friday and he was saying he was going to stay out there (in Australia) because he was making good money and when he got back that we should go into the property business together.’
Mark now plans to travel to Australia with his mother and is expecting to have to formally identify his brother’s body.
‘He was enjoying it in Australia and was looking forward to spending Christmas there,’ he said.
‘He would say he would ‘just throw a shrimp on the barbecue’ in his Australian accent.’
Mark said his hard-working brother, who played even harder, was ‘really popular’ and lived life to the full.