Justice for family who went to Delhi to find girl's killer

Man given life sentence after being found guilty of Hannah Foster murder

Five-and-a-half years after he kidnapped, raped and murdered 17-year-old Hannah Foster, Maninder Pal Singh Kohli was unanimously convicted yesterday by a jury of eight men and four women.

The teenager's family, who followed Hannah's killer halfway across the world as he fled justice, wept as the guilty verdict was returned at Winchester Crown Court. In marked contrast Kohli, 41, a father of two young boys, showed no emotion except for a brief shake of the head as the hushed court heard that he would serve a minimum life sentence of 24 years.

"You stand there exposed as a heartless and contemptible man who abducted and raped an attractive17-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," said the judge Mr Justice Keith, condemning the "unimaginable grief" to which he subjected the family.

Many of the jurors were reduced to tears as the young girl's aunt, Jill Lewis, read out a victim impact statement from Hannah's mother Hilary Foster, 52, explaining the paralysis of grief and pain as she was forced to identify her child's body in the mortuary.

"For the rest of my life I will feel the guilt that I wasn't there when she needed me most. She died terrified and alone with an evil stranger. I feel as though Kohli has ripped out my heart and stamped on it," said Mrs Foster.

"Hannah was an easy child to love, eager to please, extraordinarily kind and always polite and respectful... The sense of loss is unbearable. We are heartbroken and will always remain so."

Outside court, Mrs Foster, her husband Trevor, 58, and daughter Sarah, 20, expressed anger that the "evil stranger" who raped and murdered their "darling little girl" like a "lamb to the slaughter" could one day be 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," said Mr Foster, adding: "This man callously deprived Hannah of her primary human right – the right to life. This sentence gives him the right to a second chance at life, a second chance he never gave Hannah."

The court heard how the 16-stone sandwich delivery driver snatched the "extraordinarily intelligent, quiet and caring" A-level student yards from her home in Southampton on 14 March 2003. He raped her several times in his Ford Transit van before strangling her because he feared she would identify him. Her body was found dumped in a country lane six miles away. The six-week trial heard that the teenager had made a phone call for help but the 999 call was cut off by an automatic system because she could not speak directly to the operator. In the enhanced tape, Kohli could be heard telling his victim "I want to fuck" while the petrified youngster pointed out where she lived, saying: "That's my, my road ... that was where I live."

Four days later, Kohli fled the country to his family in India, leaving everything he owned as well as his wife and children behind. During the next 16 months he went on the run, using various aliases, and married again.

It was only because of the dogged persistence of Hannah's parents, who travelled to India three times, that he was eventually arrested. But, even then, they had to endure a three-year wait as he fought extradition. Finally, in June last year, the Indian court found he should face trial in the UK.

As he sentenced Kohli to 12 years for rape as well as six years for false imprisonment and kidnap to run concurrently with the 24 years for murder, Mr Justice Keith said: "It took a long time for you to be brought to justice but the law caught up with you in the end."

His reluctance to return would also cost him dear, the judge added. While he was willing to take into account the 486 days he spent on remand since his extradition back to the UK, as well as the six months it would have taken to bring him back to Britain if he had returned voluntarily, he would not give him credit for the rest of the time he spent on remand fighting extradition.

The trial heard "absurd" and "ludicrous" claims from Kohli in the witness box as he "spun a web of lies" saying he himself had been abducted, tied up and forced to have sex with Hannah because he owed a work colleague £16,000. But after he was identified as a suspect after a BBC Crimewatch appeal, detectives found Hannah's DNA in his van and his semen on her body, while tracking of her mobile phone demonstrated she had been in the same area where his vehicle was spotted on CCTV. Cameras also helped prove it was in the location where her body was found.

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