In March 2003, 17-year-old student Hannah Foster was brutally raped and murdered in a crime that caused shock and revulsion throughout the country. Her killer, Maninder Pal Singh Kohli, immediately fled to India in a desperate attempt to evade the British justice system. Despite living life on the run for 16 months, he was eventually found after Hannah’s parents made the unprecedented move of travelling 4000 miles to appeal directly to the Indian public. Soon after their appeal, Kohli was arrested just minutes from the Nepalese border, where freedom beckoned in a country that has no extradition treaty with the UK. The family and the UK authorities then faced a 3-year battle to bring Hannah’s killer back to Britain to face justice. For the first time, ITV1 tells the definitive story of how one family battled to the bitter end to get justice for their beloved daughter. The programme uses CCTV and archive footage, including Kohli’s startling television confession and emotional words from Hannah’s parent’s and sister, along with brand new interviews from detectives on ‘Operation Springfield’, residents from Kohli’s village in India and the Indian police officers who assisted on the case.
Hannah Foster lived in Southampton with her parents and younger sister. She was a straight-A student who had harboured the dream of one day becoming a doctor.
“She was a perfect student. She’d have gone on to become a brilliant doctor and help lots of people in her life.” Mike Hadwin (Hannah’s Geology Teacher)
On Friday 14th March 2003, Hannah and a friend enjoyed a night out in Southampton. The man who would later abduct Hannah was drinking just 200 yards away.
An Indian national, Maninder Pal Singh Kohli had been in the UK for 8-years after travelling over for an arranged marriage with his British born wife, Shalinder. The couple had two children and Kohli worked for a firm delivering food in the local area. On the surface he appeared to be a normal family man but there was a darker side to his character. Kohli drank heavily, gambled and also used prostitutes.
As the girls night out came to an end, Hannah saw her friend safely onto a bus and then turned to walk home. But she had already been spotted by Kohli. As a very petite girl of just 17, Hannah didn’t stand a chance against heavily built Kohli.
By 5am the next morning she had failed to return home. Hannah’s parents began texting and calling her, desperately worried about their daughter’s safety.
“Whenever Hannah was out late or staying over she would telephone or text her mother. It was totally out of character not to tell her parents where she was.” DS Stephen Mardon (Case officer – Operation Springfield)
When Hannah’s father, Trevor, dialled 999 at 10.30am, the police swung into action and finding her became the top priority for Southampton’s major crime department. There were no leads and house-to-house enquiries threw up no clues. But Hannah’s mobile was still switched on and this would prove crucial to the case. Every time a mobile phone makes or receives a text or call, it transmits a signal to a phone mast which gives its approximate location. Using specialist phone data, the police plotted Hannah’s route and discovered the phone had travelled from Southampton to Portsmouth. Finally two pieces of information confirmed what they feared most. Hannah’s phone had stopped moving and was in Portsmouth. And at 11pm on the night she disappeared she had dialled 999.
During the desperate call she made to the emergency services, Hannah was unable to speak into the phone. The call was put though to an automated service when the operator became concerned the caller had unintentionally dialled the emergency number and it was eventually cut off.
The tape was just 58 seconds long but gave police several key leads. They were able to tell that Hannah was in a large vehicle, most likely a van. And that she was dealing with a male who did not have English as his first language and whose ethnicity was probably Asian. Police could tell the male was in control of the situation and he was heard telling Hannah to keep her head down.
“Hannah being in that terrible situation where she is being kept against her will, she’s either being restrained or hurt in some way she still had the forethought to raise the alarm and that to me is bravery beyond measure.” DS Stephen Mardon
Sadly Hannah’s battered body was soon discovered in Southampton by a passing motorist. She had been raped and murdered. Desperate to find her killer, Hannah’s parents made an emotional appeal for information.
“They told me that when they saw Hannah in the mortuary, they held her hand. And both made a silent promise to Hannah that as long as it would take, they would get justice for her. They would find the man and not rest until they did … behind bars.” Jamie Pyatt (Reporter –The Sun)
Hannah’s body and her clothes contained a wealth of DNA information. And although her coat revealed a full DNA profile for Kohli, he was not on the national database. However, knowing that she had been in a diesel van and using CCTV footage along with the locations of her phone, police were able to narrow down the hunt to seven possible vehicles.
After a nationwide appeal, Kohli’s employer called in and put his name forward. The registration number he gave for Kohli’s van matched one of those the police were chasing. Kohli had been caught at every CCTV location. When they seized the van the found evidence of both Hannah and Kohli’s DNA. The police had identified their man.
When they went to Kohli’s home to arrest him, they found it was completely empty and tracked his wife down at her parent’s house nearly. She explained that Kohli had rushed to India to see his sick mother before she passed away. Four days after killing Hannah he had gone on the run.
Back in the UK Kohli’s wife then made a startling admission. Kohli had returned from the pub and was very upset. He told her that somebody had opened his van up and put a body in it. And that he had driven home with the body in the back of the van.
Southampton’s detectives were now faced with the Herculean task of trying to find one man in a country with a population of 1.2 billion. Frustratingly, at first, they were refused entry into the Punjab. Immediately it was apparent that red tape, bureaucracy and a lack of available local manpower had given Kohli a crucial headstart.
“The thing is in India, this type of murder happens every single day. So when we went there and told them about Hannah, they were concerned and they could understand why we were there but they’ve still got all the investigations they’ve got to do. So she didn’t take priority.” WPC Kim Ghali
The longer Kohli was on the run, the more his confidence grew. He cut his hair, shaved his beard and set up a new life in the West Bengal city of Darjeeling as ‘Mike Dennis’, working for the Red Cross vaccinating local residents. And despite having a wife and two children in Britain he bigamously remarried again.
“He’s almost chameleon like. He’s just started a new life over again. There’s no thoughts of the Fosters back over in England, no thoughts of his wife, no thought or contact with his two sons. He’s just cut that off and he’s just decided to start again. He felt safe, he felt secure, he felt that he’d got away with it.” Jamie Pyatt (Reporter – The Sun)
Kohli almost literally got away with murder but in an unprecedented move Hilary and Trevor Foster then travelled 4000 miles to appeal directly to the Indian people for help. The media interest in the story was huge. Until this point, few people knew about the hunt for Kohli but the appeal from the Fosters hit even the most remote parts of the country.
“I saw his pictures on the television and it was a disguised photo with all the beards and the head scarf. But his eyes looked very familiar to me and I thought, ‘It’s Mike Dennis’. I phoned the helpline.” Roshan Gurung (Kalimpong resident – the villiage where Kohli set up his new life)
Kohli knew his time was up as people were looking for him, everywhere he turned. He took his new wife Bharti and fled in the direction of Nepal. If he could make it across the border he would disappear forever, as the country has no extradition treaty with the UK. The West Bengal police knew they had to act immediately. Kohli was apprehended at a bus station just 30 minutes from the border. He gave a false name but the local officer did not believe the story that he was ‘Mike Dennis’. Sixteen months after raping and murdering Hannah Foster, Maninder Pal Singh Kohli was finally caught.
The story then took an unbelievable turn when he confessed to the crime, live on Indian television.
“He sat down and I started asking him the most obvious questions. And I was really surprised he was actually quite forthcoming. And then he went on to tell me all these details about how he’d followed her and I remember even about the fact of how he strangled her.” Swati Maheshwari (Interviewed Kohli for the New Delhi Television Network)
But despite being in the custody of the Indian Police and admitting his guilt on television, the battle to bring him back to face British Justice would be arduous. Hampshire detectives now had to attempt something never achieved before - to extradite an Indian National to the UK. Kohli tried every trick in the book to delay the extradition.
“He feigned illness and members of his legal team just wouldn’t turn up. So the case was adjourned. It was cold, it was calculating. He knew he had killed but he didn’t want to face up to justice.” Jamie Pyatt (Reporter – The Sun)
Finally, after 100 court hearings over three years and 30 appeals, the High Court judge at Delhi gave the British Police permission to come and get him.
“So in 2007, myself and two colleagues went to New Delhi to bring Kohli back. I recall he made an off-the-cuff comment along the lines of, ‘You win some, you lose some’.” DC Neil Cutting
Four years after running from British Justice, Kohli was at last back in the UK and faced trial in October 2008, at Winchester Crown Court. He was sentenced to life in jail and ordered to serve a minimum of 24 years for the false imprisonment, kidnap, rape and murder of Hannah Foster. Hannah’s parents finally had the justice they deserved.
“I don’t think that their work and participation can be understated. Trevor and Hilary did absolutely everything they could as loving parents for Hannah. From the moment that they woke up on that Saturday morning and realised that their beloved daughter wasn’t in the house. I witnessed it first hand on one visit they made to India, the tireless work campaigning to ensure that everything was being done to make sure that this man came back to the UK to face trial.” DC Neil Cutting. (itv.com)