Hannah Foster murder: How a grieving family moved the Indian nation to join fight for justice

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TEARS may have blurred the vision of the family of Hannah Foster, but they never lost sight of their goal: justice for a murdered daughter and sister. While the destination was the dock of a British court, the journey took more than five years, spanned thousands of miles and involved finding one man hiding in a nation of a billion people.

For while Hilary and Trevor Foster were at home in Southampton trying to come to terms with who could have raped and murdered their precious child, the culprit, Maninder Pal Singh Kohli, had already cut the ties to his old life in Britain and was preparing to build a new one in India.

Wearing a bright blue turban, the father of two young boys set off from Southampton, the city he made his home after emigrating from India nine years earlier, by taking a National Express coach to Heathrow Airport. Carrying only hand luggage, Kohli boarded the 12-hour flight to his home country at 8:45am on Tuesday 18 March 2003 while Hampshire Police were beginning one of the biggest murder hunts in the force's history.

Once the flight landed, the 35-year-old headed straight for the Punjabi city of Chandigarh, where he grew up and his parents and brothers still lived. He was relying on the loyalty and connections of his family, particularly his younger brother Ishpreet, who was a head constable at the Punjab police headquarters in Chandigarh. Kohli laid low for a while in his home city, but the arrival of British police a couple of weeks later caused him to flee, first south to Bangalore, then to north-east India.

Kohli set up a new life in the tea-growing area of Darjeeling in north-east India where, using his brother's money, he bought a new home and even took a second wife, Bharati Das, originally from Nepal.

Back in Britain the Fosters were growing frustrated that 16 months had now passed with little progress. So out of a sense of helplessness and desperation, the couple took it upon themselves to travel the 4,000 miles to India to plead directly to the nation's people to help find Kohli.

On 13 July 2004 the couple held a press conference in Delhi where their words touched the heart of a nation. Mr Foster, then 53, told the Indian media: "We come to you in desperation, seeking help to obtain justice for Hannah. My wife and I have travelled over 4,000 miles to ask the people of India for help." Then breaking down, he said: "Every parent in India will share our anguish at the cruel loss of a loved and loving daughter. I have just one daughter left now – Sarah, who just turned 16 and misses her sister very much."

The emotional appeal was carried in newspapers across the vast nation. On the other side of India, in the poor farming community of Kalimpong, West Bengal, the picture of Kohli printed in a local newspaper and shown on TV rang a bell with five local people, who immediately contacted the police. One of these was former Gurkha Roshan Gurung, who met Kohli when his new wife's father, Obi Das, was helping to set up a Red Cross vaccination tent in the town.

As a result Indian police arrested Kohli on 15 July 2004. He did not put up any resistance and was brought to Delhi to face the courts. Hannah's parents were overjoyed, but the news came at the same time as Mrs Foster was diagnosed with breast cancer. Meanwhile Hampshire Police could not believe their luck and immediately began applying for his extradition back to the UK.

The first thing they did was arrange for fingerprints and a DNA sample to be taken from Kohli to make sure they had the right man and to double-check it matched the DNA of the semen found on Hannah's body.

But the extradition process was not going to be straightforward, despite Kohli making a filmed confession to an Indian television station on 28 July 2004. He said on camera: "I abducted, raped and killed Hannah Foster. I want to unburden myself and tell the truth (about] what happened that night. I was totally drunk that night. I strangled her and killed her."

Kohli said he had only seen Hannah on the night of the murder and was not stalking her. He claimed that he was confessing "because I am already too tired to run here and there".

Yet a month later Kohli retracted the statement, saying he made it against his will and then used every legal trick available to him to stop the courts returning him to the UK. His legal team dragged the case through dozens of hearings, before magistrates and the Indian High Court, with claims ranging from his arrest being racially motivated to the allegation that he was framed by a colleague at the sandwich company where he worked as a delivery driver.

Despite last-minute appeals by Kohli against the decision, on 28 July 2007 – exactly three years after he had confessed – he was escorted by police to Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport. As he was handed over to a three-man team of Hampshire detectives who accompanied him on a Virgin Airlines flight to the UK, Kohli became the first Indian citizen to be extradited to the UK.

For the Foster family the tears, like the pain, would never go. But they had seen justice, or at least a version of it, served.