Couple 'murdered by student £170,000 in debt'

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The Independent Online

A PhD student deep in debt murdered an elderly couple for their money, a court heard today.

Odai Salah, 29, spun a web of lies to convince Rosemary Windle and Maurece Smith that he was a successful businessman with links to the Middle East, Exeter Crown Court was told.

In fact, he was married and living in Devon with his wife while a law student at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Jordan-born Salah, a British national, was also £170,000 in debt and had friends, banks and finance companies demanding he repay what he owed.

Desperate for money, Salah went to the wealthy couple's flat in Warren Road, Torquay, Devon, on January 8 this year, with a knife and killed them.

The court was told that Salah had set up a company in Torquay called Saddi and Salah to import Lebanese wine and spices.

Mr Smith, who had an interest in wine, had contacted Salah in April 2009 after reading an article in the Torquay Herald & Express newspaper about the company he was setting up.

Paul Dunkels QC, prosecutor, told jurors that Salah told Mr Smith and Mrs Windle, both 71, that he was a successful businessman and had contacts with the Lebanese Royal family.

Mrs Windle, despite her age, still ran her own company making linen for rich clients in the Middle East - and would have welcomed the chance to expand her business.

Salah said he would arrange a first class trip to Lebanon for Mrs Windle and eight of her business associates to discuss a contract to decorate a Royal palace.

However, the defendant cancelled the trip, and Mrs Windle and Mr Smith heard nothing of him for several months until the end of 2009.

"By the end of that year the defendant was in extreme financial difficulty," Mr Dunkels said.

"He saw Rosemary Windle and Maurece Smith as an opportunity to get money and he killed them so to be able to steal from them.

"On January 8 he went to their flat armed with a knife. He killed Rosemary Windle by suffocating and strangling her.

"He killed Maurece Smith by stabbing and suffocating him. He murdered them to steal from them.

"He took their cheque books and credit cards and used them. He stole an expensive camera and camera lenses and sold them."

Mr Dunkels said that over the next few days Salah callously returned to the flat to check that the elderly couple had not been discovered.

"This gave him more time to get the cheques he had stolen, having forged the signatures, cleared by the bank," he said.

"Three days after he had killed them the police were alerted by a relative and their bodies were found.

"The defendant then left the area and was arrested by the police in Oxford."

Salah, of Windsor Road, Torquay, Devon, denies two counts of murder.

When Salah first met Mrs Windle and Mr Smith he told them his name was Dudi Massaya and he imported wine from Lebanon.

"Rosemary Windle was under the impression that Dudi Massaya could introduce her to business opportunities in Lebanon and had friends within the Lebanese presidential family," Mr Dunkels said.

The couple - believing Salah was organising a business trip to Jordan - gave him photocopies of their passports.

Desperate for money, Salah applied for credit cards in their names using false addresses but the applications were rejected.

The jury of eight women and four men also heard that Salah had conned a friend, Zuhmir Ahmed, out of £22,000.

"He had talked him into loaning him large sums of money by pretending he was being treated for a serious illness and needed money for his treatment," Mr Dunkels said.

By December 2009, Mr Ahmed had made repeated attempts to contact Salah and get his money back.

Credit card firms and finance companies were also chasing him and his home was being threatened with repossession.

"So by the latter part of last year the defendant's financial position was acute," the prosecutor said.

"He had been receiving money from his father and other sources in the Middle East but that had stopped."

It was at that point that Salah got back in touch with Mrs Windle and Mr Smith promising a business trip to Lebanon early the following year.

"It is the prosecution's case that the defendant was falsely representing himself to Rosemary Windle and Maurece Smith that he was a businessman, stringing them along with bogus statements as to how he would fly Rosemary Windle and others out to Lebanon," the prosecutor said.

"The purpose was to show he was wealthy and to win their confidence and get them to lend money to him."

Mr Dunkels said that Mr Ahmed had become so concerned that Salah was not going to repay the £22,000 he owed that on January 7 - the night before the killings - he contacted Salah's father in Jordan.

Salah's father also tried contacting his son to find out what was going on.

"By the morning of January 8, the defendant, desperate for money and seemingly having no way of paying his debts, turned to murder," Mr Dunkels said.

"Rosemary Windle and Maurece Smith could not have been persuaded to hand over money to him willingly.

"He must have determined that the only way to get money from them was to kill them both."

Salah killed Mrs Windle in the flat's garage and Mr Smith, who was disabled, in the sitting room.

In the days after the killings he sold Mr Smith's Nikon camera and tried to use their bank accounts to pay off some of his debts.

He also returned to the flat - picking up parcels left outside - to make it appear all was well with the couple, jurors were told.

The court heard that Salah first came to the UK from Jordan in 2003 as a student.

He returned in 2006 to study for a PhD at Glasgow Caledonian University's School of Law and Social Science.

In March 2007, he married Donna Anderson in Exeter and they lived together at a house in Windsor Road, Torquay.

In May 2009 he applied for British citizenship saying he was a third year PhD law student and supplying fake references from Mr Smith and university academics.