Kidnap victim tells jury of time in 'coffin': Estate agent explains how she tried to befriend her abductor to

THE KIDNAPPED estate agent Stephanie Slater relived her eight-day ordeal at Nottingham Crown Court yesterday, telling how she was held chained and blindfolded in a 'coffin' after being abducted by a man she showed round a house for sale in January 1992.

She told how, terrified she was to be murdered, she tried to befriend her kidnapper in an effort to make it more difficult for him to harm her.

Michael Sams, 51, of Sutton on Trent, Nottinghamshire, admits unlawfully imprisoning her and demanding pounds 175,000 with menaces from her employers, Shipways of Birmingham. He denies murdering Julie Dart in July 1991, kidnapping her, and demanding pounds 140,000 with menaces from Leeds police and pounds 200,000 with menaces from British Rail.

Miss Slater, 26, of Great Barr, Birmingham, said she walked into the bathroom of the house to explain something to Sams. He held a knife and file to her throat. 'He had them in each hand and held them up to me. I panicked and started to scream,' she said. He pushed her into the bath, and her hands were bound with a washing line. Thick black plastic glasses were put over her eyes to prevent her looking at him.

'He told me to get out of the bath and as I stood up he tied the washing line round my throat and held it like a dog lead. I said, 'You aren't going to hang me or kill me or rape me are you?' and he said, 'No'.'

She was gagged and blindfolded and taken out and put in a car parked at the back of the garden, she told the court. 'He put me into the passenger seat which was reclined back so far I was almost lying flat and placed a blanket over me covering my face completely. The gag was on. He stretched a line across the car fixing it under my chin so I couldn't lift up.'

She said he drove off and stopped a short while later. She was forced to make a taped message stating she had been kidnapped and how the ransom was to be paid. After driving round for several hours Sams stopped and took her into a building where she was tied to a chair. She was forced to undress and put on clothes he gave her and had handcuffs put on her arms and legs. He brought her some chips to eat. She was then made to lie down and pushed into a box that she described it as a 'coffin' with the head end cut off.

She said there were boulders on top of the coffin that would come down on top of her if she tried to move. There were also electrodes that would electrocute her if she tried to escape, he warned. She said she was locked inside the coffin for the night. It was bitterly cold.

During the course of her captivity she never saw where she was being held. When the blindfold was removed she was too frightened to look and kept her eyes closed. She said she decided that 'screaming, shouting and fighting would not do any good. I tried to make it hard for him to kill me. I tried to talk to him, little bits of conversation here and there.' She said her estate agent training in dealing with difficult clients helped.

The day the ransom was paid she said she was kept all day locked inside the box. 'By 9pm I was anxious. I thought something might have gone wrong. I thought he is not going to come back, I am going to die in here.'

When Sams returned and she was released she said she was 'in absolute hysterics'. 'I had really lost it at that point. He really broke my heart. I was just crying and crying.'

The trial continues today.

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