British Equivalent of 911 Hung Up on Teen Moments Before She was Raped and Murdered

From The Times Online:

A kidnapped teenage girl dialled 999 in an attempt to escape from her attacker but was cut off by the emergency services. She was then raped and strangled, a jury heard yesterday.

After being bundled into a van, Hannah Foster, 17, an A-level student who wanted to become a doctor, dialled the number in the hope that the operator would hear her conversation with her abductor. But because the operator could not hear what was being said, the system automatically disconnected her.

Hannah’s parents, Trevor, 57, an auditor for British Gas, and Hilary, 51, a former nurse, and her sister, Sarah, 20, were in Winchester Crown Court as Nicholas Haggan, QC, opened the prosecution case in what he said would be a distressing trial.

Mr Haggan said that DNA evidence would help to prove that Maninder Pal Singh Kohli, 40, a sandwich delivery driver, murdered Hannah. “He snatched her from the street. He drove off with her in his van. He found somewhere quiet and he raped her. He then strangled her and dumped her body,” Mr Haggan said. “When he thought he might get caught, he fled to India.”

Mr Haggan said that Hannah disappeared in March 2003 while walking home from a bus stop after a Friday night out with friends.

“At 11pm that evening, Hannah managed to use her mobile phone to contact the emergency services,” he said. “She was unable to speak to the operator. It’s quite obvious from the recording that she was in a moving vehicle. In that vehicle with her was a man, and that man was speaking to her in a heavily accented voice.

“Hannah probably thought that the operator would listen to the conversation and work out that she was being held against her will.”

She would not have known that there was a system to prevent accidentally dialled emergency calls from blocking up the system, he added.

Experts who analysed the recording were able to make out Hannah pretending her name was Sarah and the man saying something like: “Hold your head down, please.”

Hannah’s body was discovered two days later by a 14-year-old boy in Allington Lane, West End, near Southampton. It was lying among brambles about 15ft from the road. A postmortem examination showed that she had been strangled. Although she was fully dressed, her clothing was described as “dishevelled”. She had scratches on her legs, and there were traces of semen.

It is claimed that on the same day Mr Kohli was in tears as he told a friend that he needed to go to India to see his ill mother. The friend noticed a red mark under the man’s eye, which Mr Kohli is said to have claimed he got in a fight with two men. Despite Mr Kohli threatening to kill himself if his friend did not lend him money for the flight, the friend refused, the prosecution said.

The next day, Hannah’s handbag and phone were found at a recycling centre in Southsea, Portsmouth. Mr Kohli flew to India from Heathrow the following day.

When I lived in Middletown Connecticut around 2000 during my first foray into graduate school my wife, who worked and lived in New York, had a 914 area code phone number that I twice misdialed. Each time I had hit 911 accidentally and mumbled a quick apology a officer shortly arrived at my door to see what was going on. Annoying, but they were very professional and indeed I came to appreciate the level of service the cops in Middletown provided.

The murder of Hannah Foster was obviously different but in a country that has security cameras on every corner one would think there was some way to track the call, cell phone or no. It may be that there isn’t, that we all need to teach our children to fight their way out of situations like this rather than rely on clever ploys designed to get someone else to save them, but the fact that Hannah thought help might be on the way is especially painful given what happened to her.

Perhaps if the operator had called back things would have been different. Perhaps not but we’ll never know now.