The lawyer for a British model who was allegedly kidnapped and advertised online as a sex slave has defended his client after it emerged she was seen shoe shopping with her abductor and admitted sleeping in the same bed as him.
Chloe Ayling says her “terrifying experience” began when she was snatched after flying to Milan for a bogus photoshoot last month.
Upon reaching the studio, the mother-of-one alleges she was assaulted and drugged, then dumped in a car boot and driven to a remote farmhouse where she was kept prisoner for six days by a man who claimed to be a paid killer for a criminal group called Black Death.
Initial reports stated Ayling, from Coulsdon, south London, was kept handcuffed to a wooden dresser in a bedroom, but police statements seen by The Sun quote her as saying: “From the second night he took the cuffs from my feet, assuring me that sooner or later I’d be freed so I no need to escape.
“From that moment I always slept in his room, sharing the bed. To be clear he didn’t molest me sexually or ask for sexual favours.”
Ayling, who was eventually escorted to the British consulate in Milan by her captor Lukasz Pawel Herba, 30, a British resident born in Poland, has now returned to Britain almost three weeks after she said she was released.
Herba has been arrested on suspicion of kidnapping her and threatening to auction her as a sex slave on the “dark web” unless a ransom of £270,000 was paid.
After it emerged that the 20-year-old had been seen shoe shopping with Herba, Ayling is said to have burst into tears when questioned about the sojourn. “Is it not strange that you went to buy shoes with your abductor?” one detective asked her, according to La Repubblica.
Ayling’s lawyer Francesco Pesce has admitted the case seemed bizarre and acknowledged investigators initially had “more than understandable doubts” about her story. He told the Associated Press: “It seems incredible. A man kidnaps, together with others, a girl, and after a week, citing particular reasons, accompanies her inside a consulate… (and) practically hands her over to police.
“This at first was doubted also by investigators – but the story later turned out to be true.”
Pesce told the BBC on Tuesday Ayling was acting under duress when she was seen shopping with her captor, adding that the case had been misunderstood and the men threatened to kill her if she didn’t comply with their demands.
He added: “So she thought that the best idea was to go along with it and be nice to her captor.”
Carla Berlucci, who runs a model agency and knows Ayling, told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme: “Safety is always first, safety is number one.” She described Ayling as “a good girl, a little bit naive.”
A friend of Ayling reportedly told MailOnline the model knew her abductor. The source said: “I can’t say too much because Chloe is being debriefed by British police and the Foreign Office, but she did know the man who kidnapped her.
“She met him in April on a photoshoot she had been on in Paris. He then called her agency and booked her for the photo shoot in Milan. He specifically asked for her.”
The same source added Ayling was taken shoe shopping because she lost her own footwear during the abduction.
The model, whose career includes topless shoots for British tabloid newspapers - went to Milan on July 11 for a photo shoot at what her agent, Phil Green, said was “a recognised studio in the city centre.”
When she got there, her lawyer said, a man grabbed her by the neck while another injected her with a dose of the anaesthetic Ketamine “strong enough to knock her to the ground.”
“Then she was stuffed in a black sports bag, like she was an object, and then transported over winding, unpaved roads for more than two hours ... bound hand and foot and with tape across her mouth,” Pesce said.
Milan police said Ayling was taken to a rural house near Turin in northern Italy.
They said Herba advertised her “sale” online, while at the same time demanding £270,000 ransom from her agent. Authorities said as far as they know, no ransom was paid.
Then, on July 17, Ayling was dropped off at the British consulate in Milan. The next day, police arrested Herba.
Milan police officer Lorenzo Bucossi said Herba described himself as a “paid killer” for a mercenary organisation. Others have suggested he is a fantasist.
According to Italian media reports, Ayling said she was released when her captor discovered she had a small child. He said abducting a mother was against the rules of his shadowy criminal organisation.
Britain’s National Crime Agency said British police are working with Italian authorities and searched a house in Oldbury linked to Herba on 18 July. Computer equipment has been seized and is being forensically examined. It has not yet been determined if Herba had accomplices.
Green said Italian police had held Ayling’s passport and wouldn’t let her leave the country until she gave evidence at a pre-trial hearing and visited the crime scene with detectives last week.
“I’ve been through a terrifying experience,” Ayling told reporters on the doorstep of her home in south London on Sunday. “I’ve feared for my life, second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour.”
Green, who runs the Supermodel Agency with which Ayling is affiliated, said on Monday that she was undergoing “debriefing” with government officials and the police and could not speak further to the press.
He asked the media to “respect the fact she does need some time alone.”
Pesce said he had “never seen such strength and such courage in a girl of 20 years,” describing how Ayling accompanied detectives to the farmhouse and recounted her ordeal.
“The most beautiful moment was to see her emerge with a real smile” after showing investigators what happened in the house, he said.
Pesce said Ayling was able “to describe exactly the places she was held, to recount everything, barely shed a tear, and then feel finally free.”