x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

British girl's murderer jailed for life

'Heartless and contemptible' man eluded justice for five years after abducting and killing 17-year-old Hannah Foster near her home.

Right, Hannah's parents, Hilary and Trevor Foster, with their daughter Sarah, speak to the media outside Winchester Crown Court after the verdict.
Right, Hannah's parents, Hilary and Trevor Foster, with their daughter Sarah, speak to the media outside Winchester Crown Court after the verdict.

LONDON // A "heartless and contemptible" man who fled to India after raping and murdering a teenage schoolgirl in Britain has been jailed for life after a five-year battle for justice by her parents. Following the abduction and killing of 17-year-old Hannah Foster in Southampton, her parents twice travelled to India to publicise the search for Maninder Pal Singh Kohli, 41. Their emotional appeals for help from the Indian public led to Kohli's picture appearing in every mass circulation newspaper in the subcontinent and, eventually, his arrest close to the Nepalese border. Although he subsequently admitted on Indian television he had "abducted, raped and killed" the schoolgirl - an admission the British jury at his trial was not allowed to hear - he fought extradition for three years, claiming in court that he was entirely innocent and would not get a fair trial in Britain because of racial bias. Finally, in July, after 30 appeals and 100 court hearings, Kohli became the first person to be successfully extradited from India to the United Kingdom. During his trial in Winchester, Kohli claimed his DNA was only found on Hannah's body because he himself had been kidnapped and tied up by a man to whom he owed money, and that he was forced to have sex with the schoolgirl. The jury did not believe his story and found him guilty of strangling Hannah in March 2003, after snatching her from the street in his van as she walked the 200 metres home from a bus stop after a night out with friends. Her body was found dumped by the side of a quiet country road two days later. Kohli, a delivery driver with a wife and two children, flew to India two days after that and was not arrested until 16 months later. After he arrived in India, Kohli disappeared into the subcontinent's hinterland, eventually emerging under the name Mike Dennis and getting a job working for the Red Cross in West Bengal. He met Bharati Dass, a Red Cross volunteer, and she fell in love with him. Just three months after they met, they married in secret, Miss Dass unaware that he already had a wife in England. "I wanted to marry him because he had a very jolly personality and, by seeing that kind of personality, I liked him," she told the BBC. "He was just as good with young children as he was with adults. He was happy with everyone on the camps." Less than a month after the couple married, Kohli took his wife on a surprise "outing" towards the Nepalese border. Though she did not know it, he was trying to flee because Hannah's parents were once again in India and his picture was appearing in the media across the nation. Miss Dass's father, anxious to trace his daughter because she had inexplicably vanished with her new husband, told police the couple were on their way to Gangtok after finally reaching Kohli on his mobile phone. Officers tracked the couple down and arrested Kohli at a bus stop at Panighata near the border. "I was so shocked," Miss Dass said. "Then I saw his pictures in the newspaper and that's when I found out for the first time he was somebody else. People were also telling me things about him. There was not anything about him that led me to believe there was anything wrong." Even after his arrest, Kohli tried to evade justice but Hilary and Trevor Foster, Hannah's parents, kept campaigning through British officials in India to have him extradited. "Kohli did everything he could to avoid justice," said Det Supt Alan Betts of Hampshire Police. "It was only through the determination of Hannah's parents, Hampshire Police and colleagues in India that he was located and arrested. "Our thoughts today are with Hannah's family. They, and we, may get some satisfaction that Kohli has been convicted, but it will not bring Hannah back." Sentencing Kohli to serve a minimum of 24 years in prison, Justice Keith, the judge, told Kohli his crime was aggravated by "Hannah's vulnerability as a young slip of a girl, the terrible and appalling ordeal which Hannah must have gone through before you killed her, the wanton way you disposed of her body and the unimaginable grief to which you have subjected her family". The judge added: "The jury saw through your lies and you stand there exposed as a heartless and contemptible man who abducted and raped an attractive 17-year-old girl with everything to live for and then, callously and quite premeditatedly, took her life so she would not be able to point the finger of guilt at you." After the case, Mr Foster, 58, an auditor, said the sentence did not fit the crime, as Kohli would be given a "second chance" of life when he was released. "We cannot accept, and never will be able to accept, how a complete stranger can abduct, rape and murder your teenage daughter, still a child in the eyes of the law, and yet not end his days in prison," he said. "The punishment should fit the crime. In this case, it most certainly did not." dsapsted@thenational.ae