Lucie Blackman's father sees alleged killer in Japan court

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The Independent Online

Four years after his daughter was murdered, Tim Blackman heard her alleged killer give evidence for the first time yesterday.

Four years after his daughter was murdered, Tim Blackman heard her alleged killer give evidence for the first time yesterday.

As the property developer, Joji Obara, took to the stand in the Japanese courtroom, Mr Blackman and his younger daughter, Sophie, sat in the public gallery. Alongside them, British embassy officials scribbled translations for the pair.

Lucie Blackman, 21, a former flight attendant from Sevenoaks, Kent, was working at a nightclub in the Roppongi district of Tokyo when she vanished in July 2000.

After seven months of searching, her dismembered body was found in a cave near Mr Obara's beachside apartment in the fishing village of Miura.

Mr Blackman, 51, said after yesterday's court appearance: "[Obara] had his back to us, facing the judges to give evidence. I didn't get to look him in the eye but we were sitting 12 feet away from him. He would have known we were there."

Yesterday he and Sophie, 24, paid a visit to the cave where Lucie was found. A rose bush has been planted in her memory and the family hope to put up a more lasting memorial. Mr Blackman said: "I get very upset there not least because of thinking how Lucie's dreams and aspirations and excitement at arriving in Japan on 16 May, 2000, were snuffed out by 1 July and that's always terrible.

"That area brings that back and I also feel for Sophie and Rupert [his son, 21] ... I know both of them feel how sad and upsetting it is. It's just overwhelming when you get there."

Mr Obara, 52, went on trial last year accused of a number of attacks on women including the abduction and rape resulting in death of Ms Blackman as well as the disposal of her body. He denies any involvement in the killing.

Yesterday, his defence started to answer claims that he drugged and raped an Australian hostess, Carita Ridgeway, 21, in February 1992. She died in hospital 10 days later of liver failure after doctors initially diagnosed acute hepatitis. Mr Obara had told them she had eaten bad seafood but scientists later found lethal levels of chloroform inside her body.

Mr Blackman, from the Isle of Wight, said: "They are different cases but each one is important to the other. If he's found guilty of one, it has an impact on the other."

It will not be until the new year that Mr Obara gives evidence in the Blackman case.

Mr Blackman said: "I was hoping that we might be looking at the end of the trial in the first half of 2005, but [the prosecutor] intimated it could take the whole of next year.

"They have a court system which traditionally relies on the honour of the Japanese individual to own up and admit what they have done. So the system is not geared up to hearing the case of the defendant. We have an interpreter who cannot speak in court, so he furiously writes on pieces of paper to try and explain what is happening."

Mr Blackman leaves Japan today but he said he and his former wife, Jane Steare, 51, Lucie's mother, would return to give evidence and then go back for the verdict.