Soldiers guilty of `horrific' murder

Cyprus killing: Young Dane was abducted, sexually assaulted and beaten to death with a spade
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Three British soldiers were found guilty yesterday of killing a young Danish woman working as a tour operator in Cyprus in what was described as one of the most brutal crimes the island has known. Louise Jensen was so disfigured by the attack that she had to be identified by her rings.

Allan Ford, 27, of Birmingham, Justin Fowler, 28, of Falmouth, Cornwall, and Geoff Pernell, 24, of Oldbury, West Midlands, sat handcuffed as the verdict was delivered in the Assizes court room in Larnaca.

One of the three judges, Takis Eliades, presiding over the case, said the charges against each of them of manslaughter, abduction and conspiracy to rape had been "proven beyond reasonable doubt".

The court was told how in September 1994 the soldiers, all Royal Green Jackets, had abducted Louise Jensen, 23, after a drunken binge in a nearby resort. They knocked her off her boyfriend's motor bike, bundled her into their vehicle and repeatedly sexually assaulted her, before burying her "in panic".

The men, whose estimated pounds 100,000 legal fees are being paid by the Ministry of Defence, face a maximum life imprisonment and are expected to be sentenced today.

The court was told how Ms Jensen, remembered by her friends for her sense of fun and adventure, had suffered 15 wounds to her face, neck and hands. Marios Matsakis, a pathologist, said one blow "almost split her face in two", and her body could only be formally identified fully by dental records.

The 167-page ruling which took 14 hours to read, was simultaneously translated from Greek into English, and the proceedings were watched by Ms Jensen's family - her father Poul, her mother, Anette, and brother Soeren.

Soeren Jensen, 18, glared angrily at the three defendants, Mr Jensen sat with his head in his hands, while Mrs Jensen wiped tears from her eyes as the verdict was delivered. They listened emotionally as the events of the night on which their daughter was killed were recalled.

Ms Jensen and her boyfriend, Michalis Vassiliades, were returning on his motor bike from an evening out when they pulled into a petrol station, where the soldiers were filling up their Mini Moke. When the couple tried to overtake them, the soldiers' car swerved and knocked them over.

Ms Jensen was struck with a spade by the soldiers, bundled into the Moke and driven away. Mr Vassiliades, a waiter, said: "It was like something out of a horror movie. I knew they were going to kill her, but there was nothing I could do. They were big men and I couldn't get near them."

An hour after he reported the crime, the soldiers were arrested with bloodstains on their clothes. They later took part in a two-day search for Ms Jensen's body, because they had been too drunk to remember where they had left her.

She was eventually found in a shallow grave, five miles from where she was abducted, by a local farmer who noticed a blackened hand protruding from the ground.

One senior police officer involved in the search described the killing as "one of the most brutal crimes ever committed in Cyprus". It cast a dark shadow over the troops posted in Cyprus.

Last night, Brigadier Arthur Denaro, Chief of Staff and Deputy Commander of the British Forces in Cyprus, expressed his sympathy for the Jensen family, but added: "These were three individuals on trial, and ... whilst their conviction affects us all, this was not a trial of their fine regiment, the Royal Green Jackets, nor the British Forces."

Following the 1994 killing, soldiers serving in the area were immediately banned from the main tourist resorts because senior officers said it would be inappropriate for them to be seen out enjoying themselves.

What had been anticipated as a straightforward trial turned into an eight- month drama. All three soldiers made hand-written statements to police in which they blamed each other for the crime, and their lawyers then tried to get them released without a trial on the grounds that prison guards had intercepted confidential notes.

The charges were finally put to the three men 10 months after their arrest, and all pleaded not guilty. Even the trial was protracted by endless legal points, including whether the soldiers had been legally arrested or properly charged.

As it became increasingly apparent yesterday that the panel of three judges was going to convict them, Ford fidgeted with worry beads, Pernell gave up taking notes and Fowler stared ahead, virtually motionless. At the end of the hearing Ford made an apparent reference to kangaroo courts, and said: "We won't be going to Australia or Sydney. We are sick and tired of kangaroos."

For the Jensen family, however, it was the result they had waited so long for. Mr Vassiliades, also in court, embraced the family at the start of the day, and Mr Jensen concluded it by saying the verdicts were "a great relief". He added: "Nothing can justify what these soldiers did to our daughter and sister. We now wish to be left alone to live our life with the good memories of Louise."