Ecuador court jails guard over missing Briton

An Ecuadorian security guard was jailed for 25 years for the kidnap and robbery of a British backpacker who vanished while on a trip around South America.

Francisco Fabian Sanchez Chica, 29, was convicted late last night of the two charges following the disappearance of mother-of-one Jenny Pope, 50, in January last year.

Chica, who is also known by the alias Pancho de la Cruz, was not present at the hearing at the Ambato Supreme Court in central Ecuador.

The three-judge panel presented their findings to the court during a one and a half-hour hearing.

Mr Pope's husband, David, 57, and son, Stefan, 23, also did not attend the hearing.

The court heard a damning catalogue of evidence against Chica, who stole the nurse's cash card and drained her bank account of 2,500 dollars (£1,290).

He stole dozens of her belongings, including perfume, trainers, a sleeping bag and presents given to Mrs Pope, of Mossley, Manchester, by her family before she left for her six-month trip.

Ecuadorian authorities searched the home Chica shared with his wife and live-in lover and discovered the items in cupboards and drawers.

Mrs Pope vanished after sending her family an email in January 2005, from the Princesa Maria Hostel where she was staying in the mountain town of Banos, central Ecuador.

Chica was working as a security guard at the hostel and is thought to have robbed and murdered Mrs Pope simply for the money in her bank account.

Prosecutors were unable to charge Chica with murder because they have been unable to locate her body.

Days after Mrs Pope vanished Chica fled Banos and moved his family to the slum city of Santo Domingo in Ecuador's tropical western region, where he tried to change his name and applied for Colombian citizenship.

Police are still trying to trace his mistress, Carmen Culquiculma, 28, who is wanted in connection with Mrs Pope's disappearance.

Mrs Pope had travelled through Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru on a solo six-month backpacking tour of South America.

She had arrived in Ecuador only days before and had written to her family to say she planned to travel back before her scheduled flight on February 20.

Handyman Mr Pope and his son, an American Studies student at Manchester University, travelled to Ecuador to help in the search for Mrs Pope's remains.

Chica was arrested in June and charged with kidnapping Mrs Pope later in the year.

He had claimed all the items found in his house were gifts from Mrs Pope, although he admitted he spoke to her only once - on the night before she vanished.

Analysis of her account shows it was systematically drained over six days.

Investigators found Chica's savings account had a balance of 2,552.86 dollars (£1,320) with the majority of the money deposited in cash in January.

The deposit is a huge sum in Ecuador, where some people earn as little as 100 dollars (£51) a month.

Chica claimed he had got the cash from selling his second-hand green Chevrolet Gemini car.

He told police he bought the five-door vehicle in November 2004 from a man he did not know before selling it in December, again to an unknown man.

After leaving Banos, he moved his wife, Fabiola Maricela Tapia Ramos, and his mistress, who is mother to his three sons, Fabian Andres, four, Francisco, two, and nine-month-old Angel into a rundown two-storey house in Santo Domingo.

When police raided his home they discovered a bottle of Mrs Pope's favourite perfume - the Body Shop's Tobacco Flowers - her trainers, her black Sprayway waterproof jacket, a wire-mesh rucksack, and numerous parts of a medical kit given to her by her son.

Chica's lawyer Thomas Barrionuevo spoke outside court following the ruling saying he was disappointed with the sentence and expected to lodge an appeal.

He said: "The sentence of 25 years is the maximum and we would have hoped it would have been considerably less.

"The police have never found the body of Mrs Pope and it is hard to understand what evidence the judges would have found that was so compelling to justify a jail term of this length."

Mrs Pope's husband David said he was delighted at the sentence but would not be fully at ease until the appeal process had been completed.

He said: "We feel justice has been done.

"Nothing will bring Jenny back. But this sentence we hope will allow us to move towards the grieving process.

"However we feel this verdict is only the first stage. We are told Chica is almost certain to appeal and until the appeals are finished we cannot be certain of the outcome.

"When we heard that Jenny's coat and perfume had been found in Chica's house we were certain that the police had found the guilty man. We are pleased the court appears to have agreed with us."

Asked for his reaction upon hearing the guilty verdict, Mr Pope replied: "We were totally unmoved. I don't know why.

"It is what we had hoped for but we cannot be certain of the final verdict until the appeals process has been completed."

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