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Polish man jailed for 16 years over kidnapping of British model in Italy

Lukasz Herba, 30, was sentenced in Milan over the kidnapping of 20-year-old Chloe Ayling.

An Italian court has convicted a Polish man of kidnapping 20-year-old British model Chloe Ayling for ransom in a case that raised the spectre of young women being auctioned off online on encrypted websites.

Lukasz Herba, 30, was jailed for 16 years and nine months at the Milan court.

According to prosecutors, Ms Ayling was lured to Milan with the promise of a modelling gig last July, but was drugged when she showed up at a mocked-up photographic studio.

She was zipped inside a canvas bag and transported to a secluded farmhouse in neighbouring Piedmont.

There, she was held for six days before Herba released her at the British consulate in Milan, prosecutors said. In his initial statement to police, he said he did so out of sympathy for the fact she was a mother.

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Lukasz Herba was jailed for 16 years and nine months (AP)

The lawyer for Ms Ayling, Francesco Pesce, called it “quite an important verdict”.

He said he would seek half a million euro (£438,000) in compensation in separate proceedings, while conceding it was unlikely that Herba would be able to pay.

In his closing arguments, prosecutor Paolo Storari had demanded 16 years and eight months in prison for Herba, citing the possibility that Ms Ayling could have died during the kidnapping, which took place from July 11-17 last year.

He said the model was drugged with ketamine, which knocked her out, then put inside a canvas bag and transported to a farmhouse, where she was handcuffed to the furniture for at least the first night.

Herba denied guilt throughout the trial, and claimed that Ms Ayling agreed to the scheme to boost her career.

In a declaration to the court, Herba said he had been in love with Ms Ayling, and that they had concocted the kidnap plot to help her overcome financial difficulties after the birth of her son.

He said: “I never hurt the girl. I was not violent with her.

“If she felt forced verbally in any way, I am very sorry. But it certainly was not as Chloe has described.

“I was in love and I was hoping that once her fame took off that she would repay me with feelings and we would share the money.”

Previous testimony showed that the two had met on Facebook and had met at least once in person before her pregnancy.

Ms Ayling told investigators that she did not try to escape, even when she accompanied Herba into a shop to buy shoes, because she was terrified, believing his threats that he was part of a bigger criminal gang that had eyes on her constantly.

She said she had been told that she would be auctioned off online since she was not able to come up with 300,000 euro (£263,000) which the criminal “Black Death” group was seeking. She said Herba showed her photos of other girls who were reportedly being sold over the deep web.

But in his shifting storyline, Herba also testified previously that he had concocted the alleged criminal group and that his brother was helping him in the scheme, agreed to by Ms Ayling.

Italian prosecutors are seeking the brother’s extradition from the UK.

Herba said he did not tell police that Ms Ayling was in on the scheme during his initial statements because he believed she would come forward herself and defend him.

During closing arguments, his lawyer, Katia Kolakowska, cited an email she received from a US film producer, who pointed out that Ms Ayling’s story closely matches the plot of a movie entitled By Any Means, which was released about eight weeks before the 2017 kidnapping.

After the verdict, Ms Kolakowska expressed disappointment that the court did not take into account that Ms Ayling emerged from the ordeal unharmed, which would have limited the sentence to one-to-eight years. She intends to appeal.

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