Page last updated at 12:40 GMT, Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Men who captured Hannah's killer

By Thelma Etim
BBC News

Two senior police officers living and working worlds apart played a key role in capturing the man who has been found guilty of murdering 17-year-old Hannah Foster in Southampton.

Det Supt Alan Betts, of Hampshire Constabulary, and Officer Prakash Pradham, of West Bengal Police, united to bring Maninder Pal Singh Kohli to justice.

Officer Prakash Pradham, of West Bengal Police
Officer Prakash Pradham
Officer Prakash Pradham said Kohli was always one step ahead

Kohli had gone to extraordinary lengths to evade capture. Two days after Hannah's body was found he fled to India, adopting a new name, wife, family and even a job with the Red Cross charity.

He was half an hour from the Nepalese border in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal when he was seized during an early morning raid in the hill town of Kalimpong.

His luck finally ran out when Officer Prakash Pradham and his officers surrounded him on 15 July 2004 in the home of one of his new wife's relatives.

"He was one step ahead," explained Officer Pradham. "If we could not trace him at that time, he might have crossed the border and we wouldn't be able to arrest him.

"Then we would be helpless - it would be very difficult to trace him."

Officer Pradham had been under pressure from his superiors to produce a swift outcome to the inquiry.

When Kohli was caught, the profile of the case had been elevated across the Indian media - because Hannah's parents were in the country to appeal about his whereabouts.

The couple were in Kohli's home city of Chandigarh in the Punjab, with Det Supt Betts, publicising a five million rupee reward (70,000) when Kohli was arrested.

Locating Kohli in India had been like trying to find a needle in a haystack until then.

Officer Pradham said: "I was very pleased that at least with the police of Darjeeling we could apprehend such a criminal and give some consolation to the parents of Hannah Foster.

"(Kohli) is a criminal, he should be punished - and the punishment should be grave."

Det Supt Alan Betts, Hampshire Constabulary

Hannah murder: 'Despicable acts'

Det Supt Alan Betts, lead investigator of Operation Springfield, became involved in the early stages of the inquiry when Hannah's "out of character" disappearance was being treated as a missing person's case.

"The inquiry reached its hiatus when her body was found," he explained.

The big breakthrough came from her parents' appeal on the BBC's Crimewatch programme nearly two weeks after Hannah was murdered. A colleague of Maninder Pal Singh Kohli got in contact.

Within less than 65 minutes, Kohli's van, which most tellingly contained some blood, was seized and he became the prime suspect.

However, Det Supt Betts disputes any suggestion police did not act quickly enough to thwart his departure.

Nobody would want to swap places with Hannah's family. It is beyond comprehension what they had to put up with

Det Supt Alan Betts

"I don't think there is any way, short of someone telephoning us and telling us this man committed the offence - that we could have detained him before he left the country," he added.

"He moved too fast for us to identify a suspect, when we had sufficient information to act upon, we did it very quickly.

"It's a bit like any game of hide-and-seek."

Smaller, but still significant breaks in the investigation came from the diligence of an army of police officers working to tirelessly gather evidence.

They studied hundreds of hours of CCTV footage from Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras to spot the van Kohli used to abduct Hannah.

The team had to "make some sense" of thousands of registration numbers. They had to identify the location from where Hannah tried to make a failed 999 call on her mobile phone.

Processed swabs from Hannah's body did not match anyone on the national DNA database but led to a DNA profile of her killer.

The final but frustrating hurdle before Kohli would stand in an English court of law was the three-year extradition process - the first from India to the UK, according to Det Supt Betts.

"There were concerns he could escape from one of the prisons, or the hearings," he said.

"It was a very sad case. A young girl lost her life, it ruined her family, it probably ruined Kohli's family and it touched a lot of people.

"Nobody would want to swap places with Hannah's family.

"It is beyond comprehension what they had to put up with - not only losing a daughter but then the whole length of time it has taken to bring him to court.

"It was a heinous crime."

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