Toyah Cordingley: police confirm key suspect in alleged murder arrested in India

<span>Photograph: Qld Police/AAP</span>
Photograph: Qld Police/AAP

A key suspect in a long-running Queensland murder investigation has been arrested in New Delhi, India, less than a month after a large reward was offered for his location.

Toyah Cordingley, then 24, was found dead on Wangetti beach, north of Cairns, in 2018 after what police described as a “personal and intimate attack”. She had been out walking her dog.

Earlier this month, Queensland police offered a record $1m reward for the location and arrest of a key suspect, 38-year-old Rajwinder Singh, who police believe fled to India. An extradition order has been in place since 2021.

On Friday, police confirmed a man had been arrested in India following a “significant investigation into Cordingley’s tragic death in far north Queensland”.

Related: Cairns comes together for Toyah Cordingley as Indian police step up search for alleged killer

The Queensland police minister, Mark Ryan, commended the force and partner agencies for the “hard work they’ve done” over four years.

“They’ve been relentless, they never gave up,” he told the media.

“Hundreds of officers and 1,000s of hours and millions of reasons and a billion eyes around the world are helping us deliver justice for Toyah.

“Today we delivered a significant step for justice. I know that people are excited about this development and I know that people are relieved.”

Ryan cautioned it was “early days” in the next steps forward, with the suspect to face court in India prior to being subject to extradition proceedings in Australia.

He said he spoke only recently to Cordingley’s parents, who had a “great desire for closure still”. “I’m sure they would be very supportive of today’s announcement,” he said.

Police in New Delhi said in a statement that Singh was arrested in Delhi at 6am local time on Friday and would appear in court “for further proceedings”.

Queensland’s police commissioner, Katarina Carroll, said the suspect’s arrest would go down in history as “one of those famous police homicide investigations”.

She said the suspect had travelled to India following Cordingley’s murder on 23 October 2018 and had hidden out until his arrest by Indian law enforcement.

“Even though it’s been four years, I’m so pleased we can bring further progress to bring closure for her family,” she said, describing her initial feelings following the arrest as “elation and relief”.

“Happiness for the family but bittersweet sadness for the family as well … She will never come back,” she said.

“I come from that part of the world up there in far north Queensland and I know how deeply this affected that tight-knit community, an area that is safe and secluded that has witnessed this terrible crime.

“It outraged all Queenslanders. She was a beautiful, much loved person, just innocently going about her day.”

Carroll said “scant details” on the lead-up to the arrest and more information would come to light in coming days, including whether the $1m reward would be claimed.

“If it has led to this person’s arrest, I will happily write out that cheque myself,” she said.

“I am very confident that we have a strong case to put before the courts … when you pursue someone this long in another part of the world, I have a comprehensive knowledge of what has taken place.

“It was never a question of if, only when this day would come.”

The Cairns community has been active in trying to bring attention to the case and pushing for Singh’s extradition to Australia.

Posters and bumper stickers with Cordingley’s name adorned with sunflowers, which were her favourite flower and have become a symbol of her case, are seen across the city.

Police in India told the Guardian earlier this week they believed they were closing in on Singh and were concentrating efforts in the village of Buttar Sivia near Amritsar, where Singh was born and where his parents still live and work as farmers.

“His parents are here but they have not met him since 2018, that is confirmed,” Swapan Sharma, the senior superintendent of police in Amritsar, said. “We are looking at every angle. It is a matter of time, he will get caught.

“We have questioned mainly his relatives, old associates and other people known to him. Till now we do not have any clue about his whereabouts.”

Police said it appeared Singh had not been back to that village.

“We have kept our sources in and around the village to inform us if he surfaces there,” Lovepreet Singh, the inspector of police at Amritsar, said. “Local people are also highly interested in informing us about him because of the reward money on him.”