A former sandwich delivery driver has been sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 24 years for the rape and murder of 17-year-old Hannah Foster.
Maninder Pal Singh Kohli, 41, a father of two, was found guilty at Winchester crown court today of the A-level student’s murder, rape, false imprisonment and kidnap in March 2003.
Kohli shook his head slightly as the jury returned its four unanimous verdicts after five and a half hours of deliberations.
Sentencing him, Justice Keith said his crime was aggravated by “Hannah’s vulnerability as a young slip of a girl, the terrible and appalling ordeal which Hannah must have gone through before you killed her, the wanton way you disposed of her body and the unimaginable grief to which you have subjected her family”.
He told him: “It took a long time for you to be brought to justice but the law caught up with you in the end.
“The jury saw through your lies and you stand there exposed as a heartless and contemptible man who abducted and raped an attractive 17-year-old girl with everything to live for, and then callously and quite premeditatedly took her life so she would not be able to point the finger of guilt at you.”
During the trial, the court heard that Kohli abducted Hannah as she walked down a street yards from her home in Southampton after spending a night out with friends. Terrified, she called 999 hoping an operator would hear what was happening, but the call was terminated when she did not speak.
The jury listened to a recording of the 999 call, in which Kohli was heard to tell Hannah “I want to fuck” before instructing her to keep her head down as his sandwich delivery van travelled out of Southampton.
She was raped in the van before Kohli strangled her when he feared she might identify him. He dumped her body beside a road in West End, Hampshire, and returned home to his wife and sons.
Hannah’s body was found on March 16 in brambles off Allington Lane after being spotted by a 14-year-old boy from his mother’s car.
Four days after the killing, Kohli fled the country, changing his name and creating a new life for himself in his native India.
Today’s verdicts come nearly six years after the killing, during which time Hannah’s parents travelled to India four times to put pressure on authorities for Kohli to be extradited.
Hilary and Trevor Foster today paid tribute to their daughter, describing their “overwhelming sense of relief” at the verdict.
Trevor Foster said Kohli had shown “not one iota of remorse for his actions”, adding: “Today finally justice has caught up with him.”
On the first trip the Fosters made to India, in July 2004, they found Kohli after a national appeal for help, but he fought his extradition for a further three years. He made a filmed confession to an Indian television station that he later retracted, saying it was made against his will.
He said in the confession: “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 seen Hannah on the night of the murder but had not been stalking her. He claimed he was confessing “because I am already too tired to run here and there”.
He was extradited to Britain in July 2007 and claimed he had been abducted, blindfolded and tied up on the night of Hannah’s death and forced to have sex with the teenager.
During the trial he painted a picture of himself as a victim of a revenge attack orchestrated by a former colleague. Kohli said he owed the colleague £16,000 and had had an affair with his wife.
The claims were called “absurd” by the prosecution.
DNA belonging to Kohli was found on Hannah, and Hannah’s DNA and blood was found in Kohli’s van when it was seized. Her mobile phone was tracked moving along the M27 and M275 in Hampshire at the same time Kohli’s Transit van was spotted on cameras.
CCTV footage from a garage placed his van three times in the vicinity of Allington Lane in the early hours of March 15 as he disposed of the body.
In a victim impact statement read to the court after the verdicts today, Hannah’s mother, Hilary, said she would feel guilt for the rest of her life that she was not there to protect her daughter when she was murdered.
“Kohli ripped out my heart and stamped on it. When Trevor and I saw Hannah in the mortuary, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, there must be some mistake. The cold, battered and bruised body certainly looked like her, but where was the sparkle in her eyes?”
She added: “Our lives have revolved around our two girls, their wellbeing, personal interests and hopes for the future. On March 14 2003, our lives changed forever.”