Wait for justice over as teacher's killer gets life in prison

The father of murdered British teacher Lindsay Hawker said his family had finally achieved justice yesterday after her killer was jailed for life in Japan.

Tatsuya Ichihashi, 32, was sentenced at Chiba District Court for the rape and murder of Ms Hawker, 22, in March 2007. He went on the run for nearly three years after the killing, undergoing extensive cosmetic surgery to change his appearance.

Ms Hawker's father, Bill, had called for the "heaviest penalty" under Japanese law, which includes execution by hanging. But the judge opted not to sentence Ichihashi to death, citing a chance of rehabilitation.

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Mr Hawker said: "We've waited four-and-a-half years to get justice for Lindsay. We have achieved that today, and we are very pleased."

Thanking the Japanese authorities, for persisting in their efforts to catch the killer, he said: "Lindsay loved Japan and you have not let her down."

The sentence brought an end to one of the country's highest-profile criminal cases, launched after Ms Hawker's body was found in a sand-filled bathtub on the balcony of Ichihashi's apartment, outside Tokyo.

The Leeds University graduate from Brandon, near Coventry, had travelled to Japan in October 2006 to work as an English teacher with the Nova language school. She was last seen alive after giving her killer an English lesson in a coffee shop.

Judge Masaya Hotta said Ichihashi showed no respect for his victim's life in what was a heinous crime, but he still had a slight chance of being rehabilitated at the age of 32, and so the judge opted for a life sentence rather than the death penalty.

Mr Hawker, his wife Julia and their other daughters, Lisa and Louise, all attended the hearing. The courtroom was packed - people had queued for hours to secure one of the 60 seats in the public gallery.

Ichihashi evaded a nationwide police search for two and half years and wrote a book after his 2009 arrest describing his time on the run.

During the trial, he spoke of how he had enticed Ms Hawker into his apartment, raped and then strangled her because he feared her screams would prompt neighbours to call the police. He confessed to causing her death, but said he did not plan to murder her and did not remember when he actually strangled her.

Judge Hotta concluded Ichihashi had a clear murderous intent because he suffocated Ms Hawker to death when she started calling for help. The judge said it was "common sense" for anyone to assume that blocking someone's airway for several minutes would cause a death.

In his closing statement, the judge said: "The victim was raped, with her dignity violated and life taken away while going through unbearable pain. At age 22, her future was taken away. The defendant showed no respect to her life and the crime is heinous."

He added that the anger and sadness of the family who lost their beloved daughter should be considered and it was "only natural" for them to have sought a death penalty for the killer.

But he noted Ichihashi had no previous criminal record and had a slight chance of rehabilitation.

Ichihashi evaded arrest despite the intense manhunt, a reward of ten million yen (about 78,000) and wanted posters plastered across the country.

In his book Until the Arrest, Ichihashi described cutting off his lower lip with scissors and digging two moles out of his cheek with a box cutter. He said he wore surgical masks to hide his face and that he thought he would face a death sentence if caught.

He didn't describe the crime or his motives in the book, but said he hoped to offer sales proceeds to the Hawker family as a form of compensation. The family rejected the offer, and the court said that the book only showed his lack of remorse.

His attempts to change his appearance backfired when staff at a clinic where he had surgery on his nose became suspicious and reported him to police.