Page last updated at 12:43 GMT, Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Killer's India hide-out retraced

Darjeeling
Maninder Pal Singh Kohli fled to the hilltop town of Darjeeling
Days after Maninder Pal Singh Kohli murdered 17-year-old Hannah Foster in Southampton in March 2003, he fled to his homeland of India.

Damon Embling, BBC South home affairs correspondent, went there to re-trace his steps.

Maninder Pal Singh Kohli moved around some of India's major cities before heading to a far flung corner of the country, an area bordering Nepal in the foothills of the Himalayas.

It appeared to be the perfect hiding place for a killer on the run.

He started living in the famous tea-growing town of Darjeeling, 7,000ft (2,134m) above sea level in an extremely remote area of the country, completely disconnected from the hustle and bustle of urban Indian life.

Monkeys wear a look of bemusement as they sit at the side of the pot-holed roads, watching travellers make their way to and from the hilltop villages.

People also stop and stare at travellers. The locals are both Indian and Nepalese and lead a very simple life.

Hotel Red Rose, Darjeeling
Kohli left Hotel Red Rose after more than 40 days without paying

Darjeeling itself is a small town, perched on the hillside. The steam train which carves its way down the main street is an impressive sight, as people and cars clear the way.

Here, where the atmosphere is damp and clouds shroud the town, I learned more about the kind of man Kohli portrayed.

He stayed in a modest hotel under the assumed name of Mike Davies and became well known to the staff.

They described him as a handsome man with a big personality. He told them he was a tourist and was keen to see the sights.

A driver revealed he joined organised tours, sitting with tourists in the back of a minibus.

Speaking through an interpreter, Ajay Pradhan, manager of the Red Rose Hotel, said: "He came as a tourist, as all tourists do, and he stayed here for 46 to 47 days.

"He was a very gentle man, the way he used to carry himself off was very gentlemanly."

But underneath the jolly and relaxed exterior, Kohli was far from settled and kept a rigorous routine every day.

Bharati Dass
Bharati Dass fell in love and married Kohli, unaware he was a murderer

"He used to wake up in the morning and go to the internet cafe, go on the web, look at the newspapers, then go out for the day and come back at night," Mr Pradhan added.

Kohli left after a month or so without settling his hotel bill and found work as a volunteer at a hepatitis vaccination camp in Kalimpong, a town a few hours drive away.

It was perhaps a further attempt to blend into the community. Kohli was now calling himself Mike Dennis and his plan really started coming together when he met a fellow volunteer called Bharati Dass.

Bharati fell in love with "Mike" and they got married and started living together.

They rented a small flat tucked away in the bustling back streets of Kalimpong.

It was difficult to find through a maze of passages where street sellers, cars, motorbikes and crowds of people are all competing for space.

The bus stop near the Nepal border where Kohli was arrested
Kohli's time on the run came to an end when he was arrested at a bus stop

Outside the flat, women prepared food and washed clothes.

We are shown the accommodation and inside there were two small, unimpressive rooms.

It was a far cry from the kind of home Kohli and Bharati would have been used to, but here he could keep himself out of sight.

Bharati only found out his true identity and what he had done in Southampton when he was arrested by Indian police a month into their marriage.

She was unaware he had a wife and two children in the UK and that he was a murderer on the run.

She now lives with her sister and parents in a small house hidden away on the hillside. Chickens roam around the garden, breaking the rural silence.

Bharati appeared nervous about meeting me, but then we spent hours talking about her life with Kohli.

Maninder Pal Singh Kohli after his arrest
Kohli was caught just before he made it through the border into Nepal

Her mother and sister listened intently nearby, while her father waited outside the room. Often Bharati paused as the emotion became too much, fighting back tears as she recalled that time in her life.

"I wanted to marry him because he had a very jolly personality," she said.

"There was not anything about him that led me to believe there was anything wrong."

She spoke to me of the moment when the handcuffs were put on Kohli, after 16 months on the run, and she was told he had raped and murdered a girl in England.

At the time, the couple had been waiting at a bus stop near to the border with Nepal. They could not cross because there was a political strike.

Had police been just a few minutes later, Kohli would have been on the run again and who knows if he would have ever been caught?



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