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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 April 2007, 10:23 GMT 11:23 UK
How family forced police to act
By Chris Summers
BBC News

A Japanese businessman has been cleared of raping and killing British bar hostess Lucie Blackman in 2000. The Blackman family moved heaven and earth to get the Japanese police to take action after she vanished.

Sophie Blackman takes part in search for Lucie
Sophie Blackman arrived in Japan only days after Lucie vanished

When the family of Lucie Blackman discovered she had not been seen for two days, they were immediately concerned and sprang into action.

Lucie had gone missing on 1 July and by 4 July her sister, Sophie, was on a plane to Tokyo, where she was later joined by her father, Tim.

The British consul had already gone to the police with Lucie's friend Louise Phillips - who had reported her missing - but they were told it was simply a missing persons case.

Sophie and Louise insisted to police that Lucie's disappearance was so out of character it deserved to be treated as a suspected crime.

Sophie's perception was that the police were paralysed by inertia and she felt she had been "stonewalled" by officers.

'Not taking no for an answer'

The Blackmans felt the British consulate in Tokyo were unwilling to exert too much pressure on the Japanese authorities.

Mr Blackman said: "There was an under-current of 'leave this to the authorities, don't upset the apple cart' and I wasn't willing to accept that.

"I'm a belligerent character and when it came to Lucie I wasn't going to take no for an answer."

The Blackmans meeting Tony Blair in 2000
The Blackmans lobbied Tony Blair

Mr Blackman and his youngest daughter decided to force the issue.

They held an impromptu press conference and found themselves besieged by the world's media.

"We actually had to delay the press conference because there were so many journalists en route to Japan from London who wanted to attend it," he recalled.

Mr Blackman said: "Before the press conference I said to Sophie: 'Our message is that we are searching for Lucie. If they ask about the sex trade, for example, just turn the question around and repeat what we want to say - that we want to find Lucie'. Don't lose your rag'. So that's what we did."

The Blackmans also waylaid the then Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, who was coincidentally in Tokyo on an official visit, and he reiterated the call for the Japanese public to assist in finding Lucie.

Lobbied politicians

A week later they met Tony Blair, who was making a flying visit to Japan.

Mr Blackman said: "The politicians felt obliged to express an interest and it was a very powerful tool in a foreign country."

In the meantime Mr Blackman and Sophie established an office in Tokyo and a confidential hotline, staffed by expats.

They offered a 9,500 reward, later increased to 100,000 by an anonymous businessman.

He said: "The result in Japan was electric. It became front page news in the Japanese newspapers and on prime-time television. This was putting pressure on the police.

"Blair spoke to (Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro) Koizumi and asked them to pull the stops out and that is what made it one of the biggest investigations in Japanese history."

The Roppongi district of Tokyo
Lucie disappeared while working in Tokyo's Roppongi district

The Japanese police were forced by the political and media pressure to throw officers and other resources at the case.

"At one point there were 150 detectives employed on the case and the chief detective on was very good, although none of them spoke English so we had to talk through interpreters," said Mr Blackman.

Protected?

In October they arrested Joji Obara, a businessman who had cropped up in relation to several drug-assisted rapes in and around Tokyo.

He said: "My personal belief is that they always knew about Obara. People had gone to the police and made claims about him, club managers had reported him to the police.

"He had always been under their radar. Maybe there was some agenda which prevented him being hauled in. I imagine the police agonised for a number of weeks about whether to pull him in."

Obara initially denied knowing Lucie but in November he admitted he had met her but denied having anything to do with her disappearance.

The mental torture for Lucie's relatives was unimaginable.

Mr Blackman said: "We had months of hell. The brain does funny things in these situations. You are so terrified of thinking about what might have happened that you shy away from it."

Lucie (left) and Sophie
Sophie (right) and Lucie pictured before she left for Japan

Then, on 9 February 2001, police found human remains in a cave on a beach close to one of Obara's apartments at Miura, near Tokyo.

Mr Blackman has a vivid recollection of that day.

"I was watching television and the police were carrying something off the beach. They had found body parts and within 24 hours they were identified as being Lucie.

"We faced the ghastly reality of what had happened. It was made a million times worse by the fact that she had been dismembered," he said.

As Lucie's remains were returned for burial in an English churchyard, detectives prepared for Obara's trial.

Refused to admit guilt

But the judicial proceedings would drag on for another six years.

Mr Blackman explained: "The Japanese system is heavily reliant on the honourable Japanese way of admitting your guilt. If you are discovered to have committed a crime you fall on your sword in honour and are contrite.

"The early part of the whole process was to try to get an admission of guilt from Obara and it was never forthcoming. In 98% of trials the result is a conviction but they are just not geared up for someone pleading not guilty."

On Tuesday the family received the bitterest blow - Obara was cleared of any responsibility for Lucie's death.

He still faces life in jail after being found guilty of raping and killing an Australian girl, Carita Ridgway.

The Japanese police were unavailable for comment on the investigation.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said on Tuesday: "Today's verdict will clearly be a disappointment for the Blackman family but it's inappropriate for us to comment on the police investigation.

"We appreciate how frustrating it was for the Blackman family when Lucie went missing as sometimes it can be perceived that we are dragging our feet but we were doing all which was in our power."




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