the Polish man who was accused of kidnapping British glamour model Chloe Ayling and offering her for sale as a sex slave on the dark web was sentenced to nearly 17 years in prison by an Italian court on Monday.
Lukasz Herba, 30, was charged with luring Ms Ayling to a bogus photo shoot in Milan last July, then drugging her, bundling her into a sack and driving her to an isolated farmhouse in the countryside.
The 20-year-old topless model was held for six days at the farmhouse in the northern region of Piedmont, with Herba allegedly demanding €300,000 (£265,000) from her family and former managers for her release.
The Polish national, who was living in Oldbury, in the West Midlands, then apparently took pity on her after learning that she had a young child and took her to the British consulate in Milan, where he released her.
He was promptly arrested and later described by Italian police as a “mythomaniac adventurer”.
The case raised the chilling spectre of a network of international criminals allegedly kidnapping young women for sale to the highest bidder on encrypted websites, with their “owners” then tiring of them and “feeding them to tigers”.
Ms Ayling was not in court – a judge ruled in December that she did not have to give evidence, with her lawyer, Francesco Pesce, saying she did not want to “again see the face of her kidnapper.”
Her agent said she felt “vindicated” by Herba’s conviction.
“This has been an incredible burden on her shoulders for the last year in the face of media criticism of her motivation and this is vindication – her story is true,” said Adrian Sington, who represents Ms Ayling at Kruger Cowne talent management agency.
“It means now she can get on with her life. It’s hard if you’re being painted in the press as a liar and now she’s able to say: ‘I know it’s a bizarre story but it’s a true one.’
“One of the difficulties with a psychopath and a narcissist, as Mr Herba is, is that he behaves in such a way that it’s almost impossible to believe that someone could be so stupid and so, in some ways, it’s not surprising that the media found Chloe’s story difficult to believe.
“Let’s not forget she was bundled into a suitcase, injected with ketamine in the boot of a car and thought she was going to die.
“She is over the moon, she is delighted. The Italian legal system has performed brilliantly. Chloe was worried about what he might do if he got out, so she is relieved on all fronts and now she can get on with her life.
“We knew that she was bona fide, we knew that her story was true and so did the Italian police and now the courts.”
“She knew that in the end she would be found to be telling the truth. At the time she played the only card that she had which was to keep him on side until he released her.”
Despite fake social media profiles purporting to be Ms Ayling and claiming she had moved to Los Angeles, she is still living at home with her mother in Surrey and is trying to decide what she wants to do next, Mr Sington said.
She has a book about her ordeal, named Kidnapped, due out next month.
Herba claimed throughout the trial that the kidnapping was fake, a ruse dreamt up by him and Ms Ayling to make money by advancing her modeling career and landing her a role on reality TV.
That was rejected outright by judges in Milan, who found him guilty of kidnapping and extortion and sentenced him to 16 years and nine months in prison.
It is alleged that his brother, Michal Herba, 37, was also part of the plot. Italy is seeking his extradition from the UK, where he is in custody.
During his summing up, the prosecutor in the case said that Ms Ayling could have died after being drugged with ketamine.
Paolo Storari said that after the kidnap, in which Ms Ayling was zipped inside a canvas hold-all, she was handcuffed to furniture for at least the first night of her captivity.
He told the court that Herba had bought two ski masks to use in the kidnapping and that he sent a note to his brother instructing him to scrub the boot of the car to make sure there were no traces of her DNA or strands of hair.
In a statement to the court, Herba said he had fallen in love with the British model, from Coulsdon in Surrey, and the two had concocted the plot to make money.
He said the website on which she was to have been auctioned as a sex slave, Black Death, was entirely fictitious.
“I never hurt the girl. I was not violent with her,” Herba said. “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.”
Katia Kolakowska, his lawyer, told the court that the kidnap plot closely resembled the plot of an American film called “By Any Means”.
It was released a couple of months before the kidnapping.
In a message to The Telegraph after the plot emerged, the film’s producers said: “We have been following the story closely and it is matching exactly the film. In the film, the girl gets kidnapped but the police question whether she is telling the truth because her story doesn’t add up.”
The veracity of Ms Ayling’s account of the ordeal was questioned when it emerged that she had gone shopping for shoes with Herba during the kidnapping in the town of Viu’ in Piedmont, and had breakfast with him in a café on the day that he gave her up to the British consulate in Milan.
When the Italian police asked her why she had not revealed the shopping trip to them, she began to cry.
The young model said she went along on the shopping trip because by that time Herba had promised to set her free.
In security camera footage shown to the court, Ms Ayling was seen holding hands with Herba while strolling through Turin.
She claimed she did so because she was petrified and believed Herba when he said that they were being watched by other members of his gang.
The police also asked her whether she had had sex with her captor, after they found traces of sperm on a bed in the farmhouse where she was held.
She categorically denied that they had had sexual intercourse but admitted to sharing a double bed with him.
“He tried to make sexual advances but I always rejected them, promising him a more intimate relationship in the future. I made him believe we could be more intimate when the whole thing ended.”
It also emerged that Ms Ayling had met Herba in Paris months before the alleged abduction.
She went there for a fashion shoot and he presented himself as a photographer.
But the shoot was cancelled after he claimed all his cameras had been stolen.
After being questioned by police and allowed to return to Britain, Ms Ayling spoke to the media outside her home, saying that she had feared for her life “second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour” during the abduction.
Herba had allegedly told her that young women who were sold as sex slaves to buyers in the Middle East were eventually discarded and “fed to the tigers” once their “owners” tired of them.