Magdeline Makola realised it was Christmas Day when the noise of passing trains and footsteps disappeared. With her mouth gagged and limbs tightly bound by an abductor who had abandoned her to an unthinkable fate, she could only lie in the freezing silence of the boot of her car and, for the ninth day, pray for salvation.
Some 5,600 miles away in South Africa, the family of the specialist cardiac nurse continued their agonising wait for news from Scotland, where Miss Makola's colleagues had reported her missing eight days earlier after she failed to turn up for work at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary
Meanwhile, Justice Ngema, an illegal immigrant and the only person with the knowledge needed to release the 38-year-old nurse from her hellish imprisonment, was marking the festivities by attending Mass.
On 16 December last year, Ngema, 35, a drifter who had entered Britain from South Africa clandestinely on his brother's passport after he was deported in 2001, had tricked his way into Miss Makola's home in Livingston, West Lothian, and attacked her, saying: "I'm a professional in this job, I kill people, you shut up right now." Within 24 hours, the burly kidnapper blindfolded the nurse and bundled her into the rear of her red Vauxhall Astra, embarking on a circuitous journey which ended when he left the vehicle in a car park next to a railway line in Airdrie, Lanarkshire.
To all intents and purposes, he had abandoned her to suffer a horrifically lingering death. As the nurse drifted in and out of consciousness, suffering the effects of dehydration and hypothermia as temperatures plunged below freezing, Ngema embarked on a spending spree with her bank cards, using the PINs he had beaten out of her as she lay in fear that her assailant would rape and murder her.
He paid for trips with his girlfriend, bought designer goods and champagne and visited bars in Glasgow, duping his friends as to how he was funding it all. He spent Christmas with his girlfriend's family.
Lothian and Borders Police launched a search for the missing nurse and used CCTV footage and credit card transactions to trace her car to Glasgow. But on Boxing Day, it was only by chance that two police officers were walking through the car park at Drumgelloch railway station.
They heard what they thought was a woman's muffled voice coming from inside the boot of the Y-registration Astra. When they broke it open, they found Miss Makola in a state of profound distress.
Her wrists and ankles had been so tightly bound that they could only be released very slowly because of her pain. When officers offered her water, she screamed in agony because she was too cold to swallow.
Despite the removal of her blindfold, it took another 20 minutes before her eyesight returned.
Some 10 days after she had been first assaulted and at least nine days after being locked in her car, Miss Makola's prayers for freedom had been answered just in time.
Doctors subsequently found she was in renal failure and would not have survived another 48 hours in the car. Yesterday, the nurse, who is a British citizen, added to her extraordinary feat of survival with another remarkable act.
Minutes after sitting in Edinburgh's High Court to hear Ngema admit 14 charges of assault, theft and abduction, Miss Makola said she had forgiven her attacker and felt "no anger" towards him. In a statement read outside the court, she said: "When I was taken I did not think I was going to survive and the experience of being trapped is one that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
"While I was in the boot of the car, it was difficult for me to work out how long I had been there, but one of my strongest memories is realising that it was Christmas Day because it was so quiet outside.
"I have a strong faith in God and I spent a lot of time praying someone would find me. I am pleased Justice Ngema has pleaded guilty and I want people to know I feel no anger towards him, only pity. I wish him well in the future."
Until the afternoon of 16 December, Ngema had been only an acquaintance of Miss Makola after the pair met through a mutual friend in 2004. The jobless migrant, who had returned to Britain illegally in 2002, had occasionally turned up at her flat and it was on this basis that he barged his way into her home, complaining of cold and thirst. The unsuspecting nurse fetched her visitor a drink of cola, briefly turning her back on him, which was when Ngema grabbed her with both hands around her neck and forced her to lie down in her hallway.
In the following hours, Ngema, who is also known as Sifiso Praise God Ngema, extracted Miss Makola's PINs from her at knifepoint and tried to set up a fraudulent bank loan before he tied her up and carried her to the car over his shoulder.
Despite being blindfolded, Miss Makola could tell that the car stopped at an airport and a railway station, and that it had been driven along the M8 motorway as she was taken to Airdrie, at first while she lay on the rear seat. After an unsuccessful attempt to flee, she was flung into the boot of the car and finally abandoned by her callous attacker.
There is no evidence that Ngema, who insisted that he had given his victim energy drinks during her imprisonment, ever intended to return to the vehicle. Bloated with stolen cash, £900 of which he still had secreted in his body when he was arrested and imprisoned, Ngema took his girlfriend on a pre-Christmas shopping spree.
And he systematically emptied his victim's home, taking a computer, a microwave and a vacuum cleaner among other items. Detectives said Ngema's girlfriend was completely unaware of the source of the goods.
In the meantime, Miss Makola was battling for her life in the car, suffering scarring to her wrists and legs as the ropes cut into her body and frostbite began to eat into her toes, which would leave her with nerve damage that may prove permanent.
Detective Inspector Alan Somerville, who led the investigation into Miss Makola's disappearance, said yesterday that Ngema, who will be sentenced at a further hearing in July, had been motivated purely by financial gain.
"It is clear that Justice Ngema is a manipulative individual, motivated by his own greed, and it is typical of his character that he has shown no remorse for his actions," he added. "At this time we want to praise Magdeline for the strength and courage she has shown both during her ordeal and throughout her recovery. She is a remarkable individual."Reuse content