The British model allegedly sedated, handcuffed and kidnapped by masked men while in Milan has insisted her story is true and hit back at those who have raised suspicions.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Chloe Ayling recalled her abduction calling it her “worst nightmare”.
She added: “I understand why people have questions. People need to understand that everything I did was so I could survive. I was in a crazy situation and I was terrified every minute. I thought I was never going to get home.
“It has been so frustrating and hurtful to have people not believe me and to cast doubt on what I have been through.
“So many lies have been said. But I know the truth, the police know the truth and it will all come out at the trial.
“This experience has taught me what is really important in life. I am so happy to finally be home. People were criticising me for smiling when I was photographed back home – but why wouldn’t I smile? I survived.”
After it emerged that the 20-year-old had been seen shoe shopping with suspect, Lukasz Pawel 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.”
Italian police said Ayling was snatched by a group calling itself Black Death last month and is believed to have been drugged and transported in a bag to an isolated village near Turin, where she was held for six days as her captors tried to auction her online.
The 20-year-old said she was injected with ketamine after being lured to a fake modelling shoot in Milan before being bundled into the boot of a car and told she was going to be sold as a sex slave.
She said: “I didn’t know what was in the syringe. I was panicking. I thought they were going to rob or rape me. I was terrified beyond words.
“They dragged me to the floor. I just gave up – I thought, “I’m not going to get out of here alive.” I felt trapped, then everything went black.”
When she regained consciousness, she was in the boot of a car with her feet and legs handcuffed with her clothes partly removed.
Her alleged kidnappers told her they had taken the “wrong woman” as she had a son – but that she would be auctioned off with bids starting at 300,000 dollars (£230,000).
She said: “That was too much to take in. I was in shock. That will always be the worst day of my life.”
Ayling was eventually taken to the British Consulate in Milan after the “horrific ordeal”, but could not return home to London for almost three weeks.
Meanwhile, the chief suspect in the alleged kidnap has said he did not knowingly take part in any crime.
Herba says his involvement stems from wanting to raise money to treat his leukaemia and that he was hired by a group of Romanians to rent properties around Europe to store garments they were selling, according to reports.
He is also said to have told investigators he posed as a photographer and met Ayling.
He said he was paid £500,000, found out the Romanians intended to kidnap her, and backed out of the plan.