Reward for 'kidnapped' Lucie rises to £100,000

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The Independent Online

The reward for information about Lucie Blackman, the British hostess who went missing in Tokyo two months ago, has been increased to £100,000 amid speculation by her family that she may have been spirited out of Japan by a gang trafficking in humans.

The reward for information about Lucie Blackman, the British hostess who went missing in Tokyo two months ago, has been increased to £100,000 amid speculation by her family that she may have been spirited out of Japan by a gang trafficking in humans.

Miss Blackman's father, Tim, said yesterday that he had received an anonymous telephone tip-off claiming that his daughter had been taken by ship to Hong Kong with four other Western women.

"People have heard before of Western girls being taken away and sold abroad," he said at a news conference in London. "[Hong Kong] is one of the first ports of call. If one is looking at a ship, it's an easy place to get into."

Tokyo, and particularly the Roppongi area, where Miss Blackman worked as a bar hostess, is thick with rumours and theories about her whereabouts, although in eight weeks of investigation the police appear to have made almost no concrete progress.

Today is Miss Blackman's 22nd birthday and it will be marked in Tokyo by a number of events intended to draw attention to her disappearance at the beginning of July after a meeting with a mysterious man, apparently a customer at the bar where she worked. An anonymous caller telephoned her best friend the followingday claiming that she had left to join a religious cult, an assertion that is regarded by investigators as a deliberate red herring.

Last month the police received a letter purportedly written by Miss Blackman, but bearing a false signature. Last week Japanese magazines reported the death by hanging of a 52-year old man who had recently been questioned about her disappearance.

His body was found in a secret apartment filled with sado-masochistic pornography and missing-person posters bearing Miss Blackman's photograph. But police sources now say they do not believe he had any connection with the case.

Miss Blackman's sister, Sophie, 20, who is in Tokyo liaising with the Japanese police, will hand out missing-persons leaflets in Roppongi today, and participate in a reconstruction of the hours leading up to her disappearance.

In Tokyo an anonymous British benefactor has offered to increase the family's reward of £9,500 to £100,000.

Sophie Blackman said yesterday: "You must understand the desperation now for valuable information, because this might not just be Japan, this could be an international problem. I'd like to appeal to anyone who seems to think they might know something about where Lucie might be, who she might have met, that now is your best time to come forward.

"Because if you don't, someone else will, and they'll get £100,000."

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