Missing hostess: 'Letter from Lucie' deepens mystery

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The Independent Online

The mystery surrounding Lucie Blackman, the British hostess who vanished a month ago, deepened yesterday when Japanese police revealed the existence of a letter purportedly written by the missing 21-year old, claiming she had gone of her own accord and did not wish to be found.

The mystery surrounding Lucie Blackman, the British hostess who vanished a month ago, deepened yesterday when Japanese police revealed the existence of a letter purportedly written by the missing 21-year old, claiming she had gone of her own accord and did not wish to be found.

The letter, which is being treated by police as a fake, also urges Ms Blackman's father, Tim, to return to Britain and to give up hope of finding her. Mr Blackman, who has spent three weeks in Tokyo assisting with the search for his daughter, insisted he had never heard of the letter. But sources close to the investigation said he had been shown it, and had told police the signature was not that of his daughter.

Ms Blackman disappeared on 1 July, after meeting an unknown man, apparently a customer from the Tokyo bar where she was working as a hostess. Until yesterday, the only clues to be made public by police were from a telephone call received the following day by her best friend and fellow hostess, Louise Phillips.

The caller, a Japanese man who identified himself by the name Akira Takagi, claimed Ms Blackman was undergoing "training" with a new-age religion in Chiba, the prefecture west of Tokyo. One month after her disappearance, and despite wide coverage in Japanese newspapers and a nationwide poster campaign, the search appeared to have yielded no clues until the news of the letter was given on Japanese television news last night.

According to sources close to the investigation, it was sent on 20 July to Azabu police station, where the search for Ms Blackman is based, and postmarked Chiba. The author mentioned the name Akira Takagi, and there were references to cults, as well as to information that only the hostess or someone close to her could have known. "Don't bother searching for me," the national broadcaster, NHK quoted the letter as saying. "Don't worry about me, and please return to Britain."

Sophie Blackman, the missing woman's younger sister, who is with her father in Tokyo, said the first they had heard about the letter was last night.

But sources close to the investigation said the Blackmans had been asked by the police not to disclose any details of the letter that could jeopardise the success of the investigation. It is unclear why the police chose to leak it to NHK.

The Blackmans have said they will not leave Japan until the search ends, and they have set up an office in the Roppongi district where Ms Blackman worked. Both Tony Blair and the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, have raised the matter with the Japanese government during recent visits to Japan.

On 20 July, the day the letter was sent, Mr Blackman told Mr Blair that clues to his daughter's whereabouts were being deliberately concealed, and asked him to intervene with the Japanese government to put pressure on the Tokyo police. "The pressure needs to come from the top," he said.

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