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Friday, July 17, 1998 Published at 07:22 GMT 08:22 UK


Murderer caught by artist's skill

Richard Neave has worked on anatomical reconstruction for 25 years

A man has been sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of murdering his wife's lover in England.

During the trial, Winchester Crown Court heard that illegal immigrant Baljeet Rai, 27, had told his wife he had murdered 12 people in India in retaliation for the shooting of his father.

Rai, who was once given a job in the Indian Army simply because they wanted him in their hockey team, battered Harjit to death with a hockey stick.

The court was told 40-year-old Harjit Singh Luther was killed because he was the lover of Rai's wife. Rai feared he would be deported if she divorced him.

How the murderer was caught

If it were not for the skill of artist Richard Neave a killer might have escaped justice.

When, in June 1996 a farmer ploughing his field discovered a man's body in a shallow grave, Hampshire police were given a dilemma.

[ image: Detective Chief Inspector Mike Lane...needed help]
Detective Chief Inspector Mike Lane...needed help
There were few clues as to who the corpse at Little Abshott Farm, near Warsash, belonged to except for an Indian scarf in which it was wrapped.

It took detectives three months to unravel the mystery with the help of Mr Neave, an expert in anatomical art at Manchester University.

Detective Chief Inspector Mike Lane, who headed the inquiry, was looking for a needle in a haystack.

Victim was not reported missing

Hampshire Police had no missing persons fitting the description.

The body, wearing a fake Pringle sweater, was of a middle-aged man of medium build with crowned teeth. He had died of head injuries and his skull was further disfigured by the plough.

Det Chief Insp Lane handed Mr Neave a shattered and badly decomposed skull.

Mr Neave, who has been doing this kind of work for 25 years, said facial reconstructions had a 50% success rate in terms of helping to identify murder victims.

[ image: Mr Neave builds up a clay face over the skull]
Mr Neave builds up a clay face over the skull
He explains how he went about the reconstruction: "I made a plaster cast of the skull which gives me something to work on.

"Then I put clay over it and, using soft tissue measurements, build up the anatomy of the face."

He said: "Inevitably there are some areas where you have to speculate, particularly if parts of the skull are missing."

The Abshott Farm body was missing one ear and had suffered extensive head injuries.

Almost impossible to recreat hair style

Mr Neave said one of the most difficult things to recreate was the victim's hairstyle.

"A body will sometimes have hair remains with it but it is impossible to know how the victim had his or her hair cut. Spots, scars and moles are also impossible to detail."

He said: "Some skulls are overtly male, others are overtly female but you cannot always detect the gender just from the skull."

There are also clues as to the victim's ethnic origin. Mr Neave said: "There are differences in the ridges around the nose and jaw. But some are quite subtle differences. Usually ethnic origin becomes clear through the reconstruction."

[ image: Mr Neave eventually came up with this impression of the victim]
Mr Neave eventually came up with this impression of the victim
Within a week of getting the skull Mr Neave had built up a clay likeness of the dead person which was then photographed for use on the BBC's Crimewatch UK programme.

It was a gruesome task and one which would make most of us nauseous but Mr Neave says he has no problem switching off his emotions: "It's just a job. It's par for the course for any job in the medical arena."

Identified within days

Within days of being shown on Crimewatch it was identified as Harjit Singh Luther, 40, from Ilford, Essex.

With a name to work with Det Chief Insp Lane was able to uncover a tale of love, violence and tradition.

Singh's wife, Manjit, was a 34-year-old Sikh from Southampton.

She was a fickle character. In September 1995, while Harjit was away in India, she married Baljeet Singh Rai, a 26-year-old illegal immigrant who had told her he had killed 12 people in India in revenge for the murder of his father.

He had never been charged by Indian police and at his trial he denied having killed anyone.

Baljeet had earlier been refused political asylum in Britain but the marriage entitled him to stay in the country.

Still in love

But the problem was Harjit. Manjit had a daughter by him in May 1995 and was still in love with him.

She constantly "flitted" between the two and Baljeet feared if she left him his marriage would be exposed as a sham and he would be deported.

[ image: The body was discovered in this field by a farmer's plough]
The body was discovered in this field by a farmer's plough
Baljeet Singh Rai solved his dilemma the only way he knew how - with violence.

One night in April 1996 he went to the flat in Ilford where Harjit and Manjit were living and bludgeoned his love rival to death with a hockey stick. A week later he took the body to the farm in Hampshire, where he dug a grave 18 inches deep and buried.

Baljeet, 27, kept quiet even after he was charged with murder but Manjit, 35, spilt the beans.

She denied murder but admitted she was present when Harjit was killed and buried.

At Winchester Crown Court this week Baljeet Singh Rai was found guilty and sentenced to life as well as six years for burying the body and the judge suggested he was deported.

His wife was acquitted of the crime.

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