When three drunken soldiers battered to death a Danish tour guide in Cyprus last year, the world wondered at their bestiality. Little notice was taken of the other side of the story: the tragic extinction of Louise Jensen, their bright, gentle, much-loved victim
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LOUISE JENSEN'S grave lies beneath a marble stone. The Danish legend carved upon it says simply: "Elsklet og sarnet - Loved and missed." In the Protestant north Danish village of Hirtshals, crosses are not allowed; but the row of fir trees at the back of the Emmersbaek cemetery, thrashed by the winter winds, lends a special dignity to the dead. Like the trees, the dead walked tall upon the earth, and were loved; most of them - for the people of Hirtshals die in their eighties after decades in the clean Baltic air - left their families in old age. Not so Louise. The couple who I saw walking briskly across the grass to Louise's grave last winter were young, the mother's hair as blonde as her daughter's, the father balding, a local council official in a town which has shown compassion before. In a place as cold as this, the Arctic winds force people to be friends.

"I didn't want to tell you who they were," the pastor of Emmersbaek Church said afterwards. "They want to be alone." So did Louise's friends. Some of them were still in Cyprus, where she had been battered to death with a spade in September by British soldiers. They wanted to remember her as she was: innocent, humorous, occasionally angry at pompous employers, just discovering the size of the world. There had been a boyfriend in Indonesia and then in Cyprus. Less than a year before her murder, Louise had sent a poem to Karina Houbak, one of her closest friends in Denmark, her neat handwriting that of a child, under the heading "Our Friendship". Karina thinks it might have been copied from a book. "Distance," Louise wrote, "cannot alter feelings and trust between true friends who realise that the same sun shines on us all and the same common bond is felt in the heart."

Cemeteries are merciful, concealing places. They allow the dead to remain as they were, in our memory. Louise's family and friends still treasure photographs of her. Elegant, beautiful, smiling, so much more human than the third-rate snapshots that the press got their hands on after her murder. Standing at her graveside in Hirtshals, it is difficult to believe that the 22-year-old woman beneath the ground is not as she was in the pictures; that when they found her body in a sandpit on a building site behind a Cypriot police station two days after her murder, her head was beaten in, her body so swollen by the Mediterranean summer heat that her parents had to be gently dissuaded from identifying the body. Her teeth were used for that. "When the trial is over, you guys will all concentrate on the murderers," a Cypriot friend of Louise's said when I met him at Ayia Napa, the place of her death. "You'll go on about the honour of the British army and ask yourselves how `your boys' could kill her. Louise will be just a picture in the paper."

And so it was. When just over a week ago, the Larnaca district court finally sentenced three British soldiers for the murder of Louise Jensen, the response was predictable. Britain's tabloids accused the killers of shaming their country. The Daily Mirror bemoaned the tarnished image of their regiment, the supposedly elite Royal Green Jackets (battle honours: the Peninsula War, Waterloo, Sebastopol, Ladysmith). The Ministry of Defence paid the defence costs of the three murderers: well over pounds 100,000.

By then, of course, Louise Jensen was a ghost, a familiar, smiling face from the British papers' most over-used snapshot: dark eyebrows, long blonde hair, a Scandinavian extra in an essentially British drama - a Danish tour guide with a Cypriot boyfriend who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. One set of pictures showed her holding a beer glass. The British papers called her beautiful. That was as much public sympathy as she got. Her story was never told. When I telephoned two of her tour guide colleagues in Ayia Napa, they didn't understand the reason for my call. The reporters hadn't been to ask about Louise, they said. Why was I interested in her?

LOTTE JOHNSSON and Lise Mathisen were waiting for me in the lobby of a three-star Ayia Napa hotel, nervous, still shocked by something that they had once thought happened only in films: the murder of a close friend. Lotte is Swedish, Lise Norwegian, and they sat later at the dinner table with the reserve of most Scandinavians, scattering a few affectionate commonplaces - Louise was a happy girl, always trying to cheer up depressed friends, easy to talk to - before showing their emotion. "She had her boyfriend Michalis, and her parents came to visit us in the summer. Her dad was a lovely man. He danced with us all. They were obviously a great family."

And Lise takes a snapshot from her bag. Louise is sitting smiling among her friends at their flat complex in Ayia Napa. It is February 1994. Louise has been in Cyprus a month. She has seven months left to live. "She talked a lot about her travels. She had been to Bali and said how much she loved it, and she'd been to the States." The two young women were buying time in our conversation, aware that we were going to talk about her death.

"It had been a long day," Lotte finally said. "Louise had to go to Larnaca airport for a Danish tour flight departure at 2pm. Ayia Napa is so popular with Scandinavians. The sun is so hot, the beaches are clean." Lise was at the girls' flat complex on the night that Louise and Michalis were ambushed. "I'd asked Louise what she was going to do that night. She just said, `Michalis is going to take me out.' Before midnight, she got impatient and said that if Michalis didn't arrive within five minutes, she'd go out on her own. Just think, if he'd been any later, she'd still be alive. I was in my room when I heard Michalis's motorcycle."

Michalis, who worked as a barman at the restaurant round the corner from Louise's flat, was low on petrol. As he blurted out to a Cypriot policeman scarcely an hour later, he had stopped with Louise at an all-night, unmanned gas station where three drunken British soldiers were filling their Mini Moke jeep. Michalis later confided what happened in detail to a close Cypriot friend. "Michalis said one of the soldiers at the petrol station was looking at him and Louise strangely," the friend told me. "The soldiers left first but when Michalis later tried to overtake them, the jeep veered towards them and knocked both of them off their bike. Louise was a gentle girl and she couldn't believe anything was going to happen. When she saw the jeep reversing after the crash, she said: `Well, at least they're coming back to apologise.' They were both lying on the ground."

But there was nothing innocent about the return of the jeep. "One of the soldiers, a big man, just walked to the back of his vehicle and took out a shovel and swung it at Louise's head," Michalis's friend continued. "She screamed and called Michalis's name but he ran away into the bushes. They ran after him but didn't find him. Then they drove away with Louise. Can you imagine how Michalis feels? OK, so they would have killed him too, but she was screaming his name and pleading for help. Can you imagine it? Poor guy."

Lotte saw Michalis in the morning. "He had got a motorist to drive to a police station and given the police the jeep's number. But he'd heard nothing and he was hanging about, asking us if we'd seen Louise, hoping she'd escaped. But Louise hadn't come home. Later, the tour company people came; they told us to prepare ourselves for the worst. A man had seen a sandpit behind Paralimni police station with part of an arm sticking out of it..."

The two women fell silent. Lotte was close to tears. "They say an arm and some hair were visible in the sand," she said. "The worst thing I had nightmares about later was that she had been buried alive. You know, there was so much sand but I kept thinking that Louise had been trying to scramble out. I can't get this terrible thought out of my brain, I can't believe what they did to her..." The Cyprus press does not spare its readers. A terrible photograph of Louise's blackened, naked corpse was printed in all the island's papers. Michalis identified her rings and wrist watch but did not look at her face. "He said he wanted to remember her as she was," Lotte said. "She had been lying in the earth in 38 degrees heat. Can you imagine what she was like then?" In fact, Louise was not buried alive. One of the British soldiers had hit her so hard with the shovel that he had cut her face in half.

NONE OF Louise's friends was so close to her as Karina Houbak. A pretty, tough, thoughtful young woman, she turned up to meet me in a Copenhagen cafe wearing jeans and a leather jacket. The first thing she did was pull out a sheaf of photographs: a stunningly beautiful Louise smiled out of the picture, dressed in a red skirt and a white vest, standing before a house in Bali, blonde hair piled on her head, a curl dangling beside her right ear. This was two years before Cyprus, and she was smiling with joy into the camera. A second snapshot showed her beside the UN building in New York, her hair longer, her smile more self-confident, a woman who wanted to learn about the world.

Karina came from Louise's home fishing town of Hirtshals, and she told their story in a monologue, the events not always in sequence but linked together by what she herself called her love for Louise. "We met at school, at the Hjoering Gymnasium 10 miles from Hirtshals. She was good at languages - Spanish, German and English which she was best at. She liked poetry. We became very close when we started studying Spanish together. I liked her personality because she was so impulsive, funny to be with, she was so warm, so happy. She made you feel good."

The two girls worked part-time for pocket money: Louise as a waitress in a burger bar, Karina in a powdered milk factory run by Nestle. They wanted to travel, and in the summer of 1992 they both took jobs in a fish factory in Hirtshals. "It was the worst job we ever had - those terrible smells - but we had this holiday to look forward to. I remember the day we arrived in Bangkok, all these Thai people kept coming up to us. Louise loved to meet all these people. She was very personal with them, talking without any shyness. We were both interested in Buddhism and Hinduism. Louise believed in God. She believed in something - we were talking a bit about religion because I was an atheist at the time. She had this aura about her when she was happy."

Karina opens her handbag and takes out a letter written on school exercise paper. It is from Louise, dated 7 February 1994, just after she had arrived in Cyprus. The handwriting is clear and deliberate. "At the moment I'm in Cyprus. It's OK but I don't really know whether it's where I want to be... but it's so nice that I'm having a good time with the other guides... I am thinking back about the time we had together in Indonesia and I would really like to work in Japan and then travel again in India, Nepal, Thailand and Indonesia. I feel more at home in these cultures and, you know what I mean?... And we're going to go back, OK? Nothing has been better than our trip. I left my heart in the eastern culture and religion and food and so on. I have to go back..."

Karina worked for several months at a school for mentally retarded children in New York. "I missed Louise a lot. I came back to Denmark, and on 9 May I went to Cyprus and stayed in a hotel for two weeks which was run by Louise's tour company. She had just met Michalis. Her parents went out in June and July and then I returned to Cyprus to work in a pizzeria for two and a half months. I wanted to be with Louise. In a sense, it was like being married. She was my `wife' in a way. I came back. Then this thing happened and I needed my family around me."

Another friend of Louise's, Lena Liden, whom I had met in Stockholm the previous day, had called it an "accident"; now Karina was calling it a "thing". "It was murder," Karina said angrily when I asked her about the word. "Yes, Louise was brutally killed - I don't call it an accident. You know, she had telephoned me on the Saturday before her death. She was so happy. Everything was going great between Michalis and herself. It was so nice to have this last memory of her. I had been at the cinema in Hirtshals when the news came. When I got home, my sister and mother and father were there. My sister just came out and said, `Louise Jensen has been killed.' I thought: `Is this my Louise? Is this my Louise?' I couldn't believe it. I almost fainted... We didn't know she had been killed but my sister was sure. Then on the radio, they said a tour guide of 23 was missing. I said, no, it can't be her, because Louise is only 22. I was pushing the news away from me. I had this hope, you know?"

Just over a week later, still in a state of shock, Karina went to Louise's funeral. "The terrible thing was that three guys could do this to her without one of them asking, `What are we doing? This is crazy.' Were they brainwashed? An officer in the British army wrote a letter to Louise's parents expressing his sorrow. But he didn't make any apology... It was my first funeral but it was really beautiful. The priest was personal and very angry about what had happened. He used strong words. He said her murder was brutal. He was shocked that people could do this. People were crying but there was lovely weather and the church was full of flowers. Louise's Dad talked to everyone and this touched people very much. He put a letter on Louise's coffin and it was buried with her. He and Louise's mother and her brother Soeren and everyone went to see the coffin put in the ground. There were so many flowers. Louise's favourite flowers were tulips and roses."

From Copenhagen, I telephoned Louise's home in Hirtshals. Her mother Anette answered my call. She spoke slowly, kindly but with hesitation. Could I visit the Jensen family, I asked? "I don't know if we are ready for this," she replied. "I will ask my husband. Can you call back?" I said I was planning to visit Hirtshals next day and would call her from there.

It was a frozen landscape of ice and floods that lay along the Danish coast. I flew to Aalborg and then took an airline bus the last 20 miles to Hirtshals. The wind was hurtling off the Baltic, so fiercely that it was difficult to stand up. My room at the local hotel was so cold that ice formed on the inside of the window. Louise came from a harsh land. The fish factory where she worked with Karina lay on the other side of the harbour. I rang Louise's mother. "We have talked about this a lot," she said. "We would like to help you but we still feel too badly hurt. I am sorry. But we thank you for wanting to write about Louise."

It was a miserable evening. I walked down to the sea. Hirtshals's beaches were piled with froth off the waves, and behind the bent trees outside the town could be seen the black concrete of the old German coastal defences of the Second World War, rotting away now behind the rye-grass and ice. When the occupying Germans took over a neighbouring town for their artillery crews after the invasion of Denmark in 1940, those who were thrown out of their homes were given sanctuary by the people of Hirtshals. Four decades later, the townspeople again showed their generosity by finding homes for 800 Vietnamese boat people. It was a place that seemed to understand human tragedy. In the Sixties, an airliner had exploded over the Danish coast and many of the bodies fell, Lockerbie-like, around the town. The corpses were laid out in a temporary mortuary in the fish factory in which Louise would work many years later.

Back at the hotel, I had only one more call to make. I wanted to meet the Icelandic pastor who had been so angry at Louise's funeral. Olar Olafsson was at home. He lived next to Emmersbaek church, not far from the railway line to Copenhagen, the sky glowering and the wind hissing through the trees of the cemetery behind his house. Louise's grave, by chance, was on the other side of the garden hedge. When we sat down to talk in his living-room, the dead girl was lying in her grave scarcely 20 metres away from us.

Bearded and sparkling-eyed, Pastor Olaffson was a gentle, intellectual man who admired Louise's parents. He knew - although he did not tell me - of Poul Jensen's kindness towards Louise's boyfriend Michalis. Aware that the Cypriot youth was distraught at running away from his daughter's murderers, her father invited him to the funeral. And here at Hirtshals, in a great act of kindness and of courage, he told Michalis that he regarded him as a son - and that he was right to have run away when Louise was attacked because, had he not done so, he himself would have been killed. Michalis must never reproach himself for what he did or did not do, Poul Jensen said.

Pastor Olafsson was also a generous man but he was not an altogether forgiving one. Louise's murder hung over his beliefs. "I think that people today are becoming aware that the humanistic approach - that somewhere there is good in everyone - is cracking," he said. "We have to become aware that there is genuine evil and genuine good and that somehow we are part of this. You can say `those animals' when you talk of murderers but we cannot really say this because they were humans like you and me. This is frightening because if people can do things like this, what are we? We have, as humans, to choose what side we are on. It is time to make a choice of fighting for good or evil. We have to make a stand. I am talking now about punishment. Part of our right and obligation to be a human is that we must have the right to suffer for what we do wrong. Punishment is a human right. If we do not take the consequences of doing wrong, we are not human."

The pastor went to his study to find the notes from which he read at Louise's funeral. "I asked how we should fight evil in this world and I asked where is God when evil happens. At Louise's funeral, I quoted from Elie Wiesel's book, Night, of his description of watching an execution in Auschwitz. He is describing the hanging of a young boy and the boy is fighting to stay alive with his tongue hanging out of his mouth and he is going blue and is suffering and dying on the rope. And someone whispers, `Where is God?' And by saying this, that man was saying that there is no God. Then Wiesel says to himself: `There is God - in that person who is suffering...' "

There was a long silence in the pastor's living-room. Louise had briefly become the innocent hanging in the death camp at Auschwitz, her murderers the Nazis. "I didn't call Louise's murder `brutal' - I described it as `this violent death which has shocked and grieved us all' and I quoted from the verse of the Bible used at Louise's church confirmation. It was from the Revelation of St John the Divine, Chapter 3, Verse 8: `I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.' Then I told all those at the funeral that this was written by St John on Patmos, an island not very far from Cyprus where Louise had died. It was a message received by a man who was forced to flee from violence. I also talked of the hope of a better world that the Book of Revelation gives us, that the final word on righteousness has not yet been said; that if we don't believe in that, everything is in a way a crazy world."

Louise's friend, Lena Liden, had used a similar expression in Stockholm a few days earlier, telling me how, less than a month after Louise's death, "I was looking at the television and they said the Estonia had gone down. I started crying. I felt that everything was going wrong with the world." Could punishment somehow correct such craziness? Was this the path to Pastor Olafsson's righteousness? When the Larnaca court passed sentence just over a week ago on Allan Ford, Justin Fowler and Geoff Pernell, Louise's brother Soeren could do no more than glare angrily at the three Britons.

After kidnapping Louise, they had torn off her jeans and shirt and sexually assaulted her, the court was told. When the Cypriot police arrested the three soldiers, they were covered in Louise's blood. They were so drunk, it took them 24 hours to remember where they had buried her body. In the courtroom, Poul Jensen sat with his head in his hands as his Anette wept beside him. Later, he embraced Michalis. "Nothing can justify what these soldiers did to our daughter and sister," he said. "We now wish to be left alone to live our life with the good memories of Louise."

They were not the only ones with memories. Several of Louise's friends felt her presence in the months after her murder. Like Lotte, Karina had nightmares of being buried alive in the days that followed - "the nightmares wouldn't stop and I was so afraid, I couldn't sleep at night" - but she thinks now of Louise as still alive, and she does not fear the ghost. "I always believed in life after death," she said. "We learnt something from all this - that we have to live our life and we have to go on living even if it's dreadful sometimes. We lost a very good friend and we loved her and I think she is still smiling at me somewhere."