Police to dig up beach in search for Lucie

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The Independent Online

Police searched a seaside apartment and a beach outside Tokyo yesterday for the body of missing British bar hostess, Lucie Blackman. Thirty forensic investigators with police dogs spent six hours in the small town of Misaki-cho, 40 miles south-west of the capital, searching a house owned by Joji Ohara, a 48-year-old businessman being questioned in connection with sex assaults on up to eight Western women.

Police searched a seaside apartment and a beach outside Tokyo yesterday for the body of missing British bar hostess, Lucie Blackman. Thirty forensic investigators with police dogs spent six hours in the small town of Misaki-cho, 40 miles south-west of the capital, searching a house owned by Joji Ohara, a 48-year-old businessman being questioned in connection with sex assaults on up to eight Western women.

They are expected to start digging in the area around the apartment early today.

Television film from helicopters showed policemen walking with dogs over a secluded beach fringed by woods. Nearby, they searched one of numerous properties owned or used by Mr Ohara. Police sources believe Miss Blackman was brought here by Mr Ohara on 1 July, the day she disappeared, and probably the day she was murdered.

A neighbour said Mr Ohara had begun using the house over the summer after an absence of five years. At around the time Lucie disappeared, the caretaker is said to have reported him returning from the direction of the beach with a shovel. He was later seen with cement or mud on his hands.

Police were beginning to give up hope of finding Miss Blackman, but in the last week, the case has been transformed from a mystery to what looks increasingly like a tragedy.

Lucie disappeared after leaving her home in Tokyo to meet a customer at the Casablanca club where she worked. During the afternoon, she phoned her best friend twice to say she was coming home that evening, but never returned. The next day her friend had a strange phone call from a man who claimed Lucie was undergoing "training" with a religious group.

For three months, despite a 40-man investigation, a £500,000 reward and a nationwide poster campaign, there were no leads. Then, according to Japanese reports, the police did what the Blackman family and the British Embassy had been urging them to do for months - they traced the numbers from which the phone calls had been made.

The number belonged to Mr Ohara. Then police also found that several hostesses had reported being drugged and sexually assaulted by a Japanese man at a house by the seaside.

Officers have already removed removed dozens of video tapes from properties in Tokyo, and some tapes are reported to show Mr Ohara having sex with Western women, apparently after they had been drugged. On Friday night, a day after his arrest, the police sent prosecutors papers detailing an alleged attack on a Canadian woman in March 1996.

All the women allegedly assaulted by Mr Ohara are said to have been working illegally as hostesses in the Roppongi district of Tokyo, like 22-year old Lucie. Although little is known about Mr Ohara, he, too, is said to have been a regular at such establishments.

Lucie's father, Tim Blackman, said yesterday from his home in the Isle of Wight: "I think we're realistically preparing ourselves for the worst, because Lucie has still not been seen or heard. It's just very grim really."

He has made several trips to Tokyo to help investigations.

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