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British catch in Bengal

Kalimpong, July 15: Britain had launched one of its biggest manhunts for Maninderpal Singh Kohli. All this while, he was living in Kalimpong as Mike Davis — the friendly neighbourhood doctor.

Kohli, wanted for the rape and murder of a British schoolgirl, was arrested today after a 16-month search.

The 36-year-old was caught at Panighata village, near Naxalbari, in Darjeeling district, 4 km from the Nepal border. He had put up with relatives of his wife of one month, Bharati Das. “He did not offer any resistance and came along with us quietly,” Darjeeling district police chief Rajeev Mishra said. “He gave a wrong name first but later admitted he was Kohli.”

Presented before the media, Kohli only said: “I am innocent.”

The migrant sandwich delivery driver fled the UK, abandoning his wife Shalinder Kaur and two young children, two days after 17-year-old Hannah Foster’s body was found in Southampton on March 16 last year. Hannah was abducted on March 14. She was last seen alive waving goodbye to friends at a bus stop near the suspect’s home.

Her father Trevor, who is in Chandigarh with wife Hilary, said: “At this time, we are trying to keep our emotions in check… we are hoping this would be the first step on the way to extradition and a criminal trial.”

Mishra said Hannah’s parents are expected in Kalimpong tomorrow. They have expressed a desire to travel to Calcutta.

Hannah’s parents came to India to appeal for information on Kohli, who had arrived unexpectedly at his parents’ home in Punjab days after the murder. He left abruptly on March 28 and had not been seen since.

Jagjit Singh, the suspect’s father, said in Patiala he was relieved. “The whole world will now know who murdered Hannah. If my son has killed her, he deserves to be hanged. If he is innocent, he should be let off with respect. Hannah could be anybody’s daughter,” the 72-year-old said.

Kohli was tracked down at 1 pm. Bharati, who was with him, has been detained for questioning. She is the daughter of .B. Das, secretary of the Indian Red Cross Society in Kalimpong.

Residents said the suspect was first seen in Kalimpong in March this year when he rented a room at Murgi Hatta under the name Mike Davis. He moved to another rented house after getting married. In Kalimpong, he was known as a “dedicated doctor” who was actively involved with Red Cross in spreading awareness about Hepatitis B.

“The police raided the house at 2 pm yesterday, but Kohli had fled with his wife. After another raid at Pradhanagar in Siliguri, it was learnt that he was moving towards Nepal. Wherever they went, the couple stayed with Bharati’s relatives,” said Shyamal Dutta, DG, state police.

Mishra said Kohli has told the police that he found Hannah’s body in his parked vehicle and dumped it outside. Since coming to India, he “has been to Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai and five to six months ago he came to Darjeeling”. “He stayed at different hotels there and finally came to Kalimpong.”

Asked about the Rs 50 lakh reward promised for tracing Kohli, the Kalimpong police chief said: “It was through the media that we came to know about the whereabouts of Kohli and not through any person. We are not aware of the reward nor interested in it.”

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