Kidnapped beauty queen due at Luton

August 15, 2003

Vietnam's reigning beauty queen has been kidnapped in an apparent bid to prevent her taking up a place at Luton University next month, writes Phil Baty.

Eighteen-year old Miss Vietnam, Pham Thi Mai Phuong, has not been seen by her family for more than a week. Police have been called in to investigate her disappearance.

According to the state-run Tien Phong newspaper, she was seen being bundled into a car by a group of men as she made her way home from an English-language class in her home town of Haiphong. Ms Phuong, the first Vietnamese entrant to the Miss World contest, is believed to be a victim of anti-West sentiment in her communist homeland.

Ms Phuong's boyfriend, Nguyen Binh Khanh, a police officer and the son of the city's chief of policy, repeatedly said he did not want her to go to Luton, her mother told Vietnamese newspapers.

The family has received no ransom demand and said it had had several telephone calls from her, in which she did not give her location.

Ms Phuong was one of 90 contestants who travelled to Nigeria for the Miss World contest. The event was relocated to London after religious rioting in Nigeria left more than 200 people dead.

Luton this week confirmed that it had offered Ms Phuong a place to study a foundation course in business from this year, in preparation for a three-year degree in business administration.

Tim Boatswain, pro vice-chancellor of Luton University, attended a presentation in Ms Phuong's home town in May this year and offered her a place at Luton.

He said: "It is terrible news and I just hope she is all right. She is not a typical beauty queen. She is ambitious and wants to set up her own business. Hopefully she will enrol for her course as planned."

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