Four guilty of bungled 'honour killings'
Four men were convicted today of murdering a couple in a bungled honour killing arson attack.
Abdullah Mohammed, 41, and his wife, Aysha Mohammed, 39, were overcome by smoke and fumes after petrol was poured through their letterbox and set alight.
Hisamuddin Ibrahim, 21, wanted to punish a man who was having an affair with his married sister and ordered three men to cause a blaze at his terraced home in the early hours while he was asleep.
But the wrong address was targeted as the blaze was started at the home of the Mohammeds in 175 London Road in Blackburn, Lancashire - instead of the intended address of 135 London Road.
A jury at Preston Crown Court took just 90 minutes following a six-week trial to convict Ibrahim, Habib Iqbal, Sadek Miah and Mohammed Miah (no relation) of their murders.
London Underground systems operator Ibrahim was said to be enraged when he discovered his sister, Hafija Gorji, 22, was committing adultery with a man called Mo Ibrahim (no relation) she met at a wedding in Manchester.
She was married to a cousin from India, while her sister was married to her husband's brother.
A month before the fire, Hafija's lover lied as he swore on the Koran in front of her relatives that the pair were just good friends.
Just a week before the couple's death, Ibrahim viewed a story on the BBC Crimewatch website about an unsolved fatal blaze in Eastbourne.
The story concerned a night-time arson attack on a private dwelling in which two occupants had been killed.
Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service received a 999 call from Mr Mohammed at about 1.20am on October 21 last year.
He told the operator there was a fire at his home and he could not breathe. The line then went dead.
The blaze spread through the hallway as smoke engulfed the upstairs of the terraced property.
Neighbours tried in vain to get into the house but were beaten back by the flames before the emergency services arrived.
Mr Mohammed was found unconscious in his bedroom along with his wife and two of their three children.
He died the same night while his wife died a week later. Their 14-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son survived.
Preston Crown Court heard Ibrahim, on behalf of his family, asked his best friend Habib Iqbal and two other men, Mohammed Miah and Sadek Miah (no relation), to drive up from London overnight and carry out the attack.
There were no witnesses to the start of the blaze but CCTV footage captured a vehicle circling the surrounding streets three times shortly before the fire.
Three figures were then seen to leave the car in the direction of London Road, one appearing to carry a container, before returning and then driving away with its lights off.
The vehicle, a black Volskwagen Golf registered to Sadek Miah's mother, was then driven straight back to London.
Ibrahim, 21, of Shelley Avenue, Manor Park, east London; Mohammed Miah, 19, of Pelly Road, Plaistow, east London; Sadek Miah, 23, of Byng Street, Tower Hamlets, east London and Iqbal, 25, of Strone Road, Manor Park, all denied murder.
At an earlier hearing, Sadek Miah pleaded guilty to an alternative charge of manslaughter, which his co-defendants all denied.
Opening the case, prosecutor Brian Cummings QC said: "What was intended was serious. It was planned to engage the services of people and a vehicle with no direct contact with Blackburn.
"The intention was to kill him (Mo Ibrahim) while he was asleep in bed in the manner of the Crimewatch home page that Hisamuddin Ibrahim had visited.
"Having set the fire the three defendants left the area, not giving a thought to anyone in the building or the neighbouring buildings."
The jury was told the defendants had contradicted each other's accounts in their police interviews in a bid to "water down" their involvement.
Sadek Miah said he drove the men up from London as a favour for Habib Iqbal, who needed to repay a loan to a man in Blackburn and initially denied any involvement in starting the blaze.
Mohammed Miah said he "went along for the ride" and was asleep for most of the seven-hour round trip.
Habib Iqbal backed up their account but changed his story when Hisamuddin Ibrahim denied his friend had come up to Blackburn to pay his debt, the court was told.
He said Mohammed Miah poured the petrol into the letterbox at London Road but "he must have poured in too much".
Hisamuddin Ibrahim told detectives he stayed at the home of another sister, Rizwani Gorji, in Blackburn on the night of the fire and received no visitors.
He claimed he was unaware of his sister's affair with Mo Ibrahim until after the fire which he said he had no involvement in.
Trial judge Mr Justice Henriques thanked the juors for their concentration on a "demanding case" in which they encountered a "spectacular number of lies".
He excused them from jury service for the next 10 years.
Sentencing will take place tomorrow at 10.30am.
Senior investigating officer Detective Superintendent Neil Hunter of the Force Major Investigation Team said: "Naturally I am pleased with the decision of the jury and feel they have returned with the correct verdict.
"This was a premeditated, well planned and wicked offence committed by four evil young men, three of whom had travelled 250 miles from their homes in London with the sole intention to kill.
"Had it not been for the prompt attendance by the fire service we could easily have been looking at four fatalities. The house was completed ravaged by the intensity of the fire and it is a miracle that anyone was able to be rescued alive.
"The despicable actions of the persons responsible have devastated a family and a community and robbed three children of the love and affection of their parents forever more.
"I have nothing but contempt for those responsible as even faced against compelling evidence they still attempted to hoodwink the jury by telling a tissue of lies, time after time. Thankfully, they saw through their pathetic attempts.
"It's a long time since I have investigated a murder that has had such a profound effect on an area. The local community have proved to be a tower of strength for the family in such devastating circumstances.
"It is very difficult to understand how people can not only go and commit such a heinous offence but to get their intended target so tragically wrong. The Mohammeds were the victims of mistaken identity and that must be very difficult for the family to accept or understand. They have been brought into another family's dispute with devastating consequences.
"There has been much talk during this trial that this crime was committed as the result of so-called honour. There is no honour in killing innocent people, it is murder pure and simple.
"Lancashire Constabulary will not tolerate any acts of so-called honour-based violence in our communities and any act of so-called honour violence will be treated extremely seriously and those people responsible will be brought to justice and put through the judicial system.
"I would like to pay tribute to the family and friends of Mr and Mrs Mohammed. The three children are some of the loveliest people I have ever met and my heart goes out to them. No justice can ever bring their parents back. The support network they have had has been excellent and I am sure the local community will continue to rally round them. I wish them the very best for their futures."
Joanne Cunliffe, crown advocate from Lancashire CPS, said: "This is one of the most tragic cases that I have ever dealt with as a prosecutor. The deaths of Mr and Mrs Mohammed have had a devastating impact not only on their family, but also on the community where they lived.
Mr and Mrs Mohammed were complete strangers to the men who have today been convicted of their murder and their three children have been orphaned in a terrible case of mistaken identity.
"All four of these defendants bear equal guilt for the murders - the three men who were directly responsible for starting the fire and Hisammudin Ibrahim, who put them up to it.
"It was a planned and callous attack. They deliberately started a fire that would take hold very quickly in the middle of the night when the occupants of the house would be asleep and there would be no one around to raise the alarm. None of the defendants showed any concern at all for the lives of the people inside the house or in neighbouring houses.
"Since that night they have all tried to evade justice by lying about their involvement, claiming that they only played a minor part in the events or blaming each other.
"The jury has seen through those lies and evasions and delivered guilty verdicts for murder today and I am pleased that justice has been done for Mr and Mrs Mohammed and their family.
"I would like to thank the community for their support and assistance in this case. My thoughts are with Mr and Mrs Mohammed's children and the rest of their family. The trial has been a difficult time for them and I would like to pay tribute to the courage and determination they have shown throughout the case."
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