Guilty verdict ends Blackman family's fight for justice

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The Independent Online

A Japanese businessman has been convicted of abducting Lucie Blackman and mutilating her body, ending an eight-year campaign by her family.

The millionaire property developer Joji Obara was cleared last year of raping and killing the 21-year-old British bar hostess in Japan in 2000. Yesterday the High Court in Tokyo agreed that there was insufficient evidence to convict him on these charges but ruled that Obara dismembered and abandoned her body.

Ms Blackman's family said they were "delighted" by the higher court's judgment but added that they were left with a bitter taste in the mouth after their long fight for justice through Japan's drawn-out legal system.

Her mother, Jane Steare, sat weeping yards from Obara in court as the verdict was read out, an experience she called "very, very harrowing". It was her first sighting of the man who used a chainsaw to mutilate her daughter's body, which he then dumped in a cave south-west of Tokyo. On a previous court appearance, Obara had failed to show up.

After the verdict, she said: "At last we have two guilty verdicts and a life sentence for the crimes Obara committed against my wonderful Lucie. He's got a life sentence and I think justice has been done."

Her father, Tim Blackman, who lives on the Isle of Wight, said: "Although the result is not the absolute decision we had hoped for, it is still an obvious recognition of guilt. After such a long time it is clear that it was necessary for this protracted process to get any degree of result and some form of justice for Lucie, but it still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth."

Ms Blackman's sister, Sophie, 26, said: "It is not important exactly what he was charged with – what matters is that he is finally taking responsibility after all this time. I'm delighted."

Ms Blackman, a former flight attendant, went to Japan in May 2000 and found a job as a hostess at a Tokyo nightclub. She vanished in July that year after telephoning her flatmate to say she was going out for the afternoon with a man. Her remains were found in a cave near Obara's beachside condominium in February 2001 following an extensive search.

In April last year Tokyo District Court acquitted Obara of involvement in Ms Blackman's death. But he was ordered to spend life in prison for a string of rapes and causing the death of an Australian woman. Tokyo High Court also upheld this sentence yesterday. Judge Hiroshi Kadono held that Obara's actions left no room for leniency and said: "His action of damaging and abandoning her body was ruthless and did not even give the slightest consideration to her dignity."

Police found hundreds of home-made videos in the businessman's flat, showing him having sex with unconscious women, many of whom he met while cruising the Tokyo entertainment district where Ms Blackman worked.

However, although strong circumstantial evidence, including proof that he bought the chainsaw, apparently linked him to the death of the former air stewardess, there was no video recording of her rape.