Four jailed for hammer murder


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The Independent Online

A father and the two sons he recruited for a "mission to murder" a business associate, found dying in the back of a van, were jailed for life today.

Robert Derek Johnston, 57, and his sons Ben, 27, and Tom, 25, along with colleague Shaun Matthews, 56, travelled to the home of father-of-three Shaleem Amar intent on killing him with lump hammers, Reading Crown Court was told.

All four were found guilty of murdering the 33-year-old after cornering him in the kitchen of his rented luxury home in Sunningdale, Berkshire, and showering him with blows.

He was found in a rubble bag, covered with sand, by police who stopped the van on the afternoon of November 17 last year.

Judge Zoe Smith gave each of the four men a life sentence for "brutally attacking" Mr Amar.

Johnston senior will serve a minimum of 28 years, with Ben Johnston given a minimum sentence of 25 years and his younger brother a 20-year minimum tariff. Matthews will have to serve at least 25 years in jail before he is eligible for parole.

The Johnstons, all from Pampisford, Cambridgeshire, and Matthews, from Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire, did not react as they were sentenced.

Mr Amar's family, including wife Shajiba, sighed with relief as Judge Smith passed the life sentences.

Mr Amar was struck at least seven times while covering his face and head in self-defence, Reading Crown Court was told.

Shortly after the crime was committed, Mr Amar's wife - who was living nearby at the time - arrived at Tresanton, her husband's rented home.

She unwittingly walked past the van in which her husband lay grievously wounded, a fact which she said "tortures" her every day.

The court heard the men planned to bury Mr Amar in a large hole that had been dug by Matthews in a 10-acre field, but were stopped by police before they could do so.

Mr Amar was bleeding profusely from a wound to his head when he was found, some time after police stopped the van, and was pronounced dead at the roadside despite the efforts of paramedics and a passing off-duty nurse.

The Johnstons and Matthews denied murder but were found guilty by a jury following a six-week trial.

Mr Amar and the Johnstons were involved in a multi-million-pound fraud and the motive for the murder was greed, prosecutor Noel Lucas QC said.

The fraudulent business carried out complicated paper-trail VAT fraud, claiming VAT on goods it "sold" but that did not actually exist.

Mr Lucas said the way Mr Amar was killed could be "likened to torture" and added that for Johnston senior, the matter was made worse by "the fact that he took his two sons with him on a mission to murder".

Judge Smith told Ben Johnston as she sentenced him: "Your character witnesses have described you as a man who is non-violent, but it must therefore have been out of loyalty to your father that you were involved in such a deadly plan."

She also noted that Tom Johnston could be described as a "secondary party" to the murder.