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French students 'stabbed 250 times' for cashcard number

Science graduates suffered 'inhuman' torture, Old Bailey hears

Two French students were bound, gagged and stabbed nearly 250 times in a "relentless and merciless onslaught" at the hands of two drug addicts, a court heard yesterday.

Science graduates Gabriel Ferez and Laurent Bonomo, both 23, were just weeks away from finishing a research project at Imperial College London when they were murdered by burglars Nigel Farmer and Dano Sonnex, who tortured them for their bank cards and PINs in a two-and-a-half hour attack of "unmitigated evil", the Old Bailey was told.

Mr Ferez was stabbed 50 times and Bonomo, who "would not die", was stabbed 194 times. The pair were bound at the ankles and wrists, had their heads wrapped in towels and were stabbed with such force that the blade penetrated their skulls and damaged their brains.

Mr Bonomo's ground-floor flat in New Cross, south-east London, was later set on fire by Farmer in an attempt to destroy forensic evidence, the court was told. Opening the case at the Old Bailey, prosecutor Crispin Aylett QC said that fireman and police officers who were called to the flat in June 2008 came across a scene of "unimaginable horror".

Mr Aylett told the jury that Sonnex, who he described as "not right in the head" and Farmer, who he said was a cocaine and heroin addict with a £100-a-day habit, ended up in the early hours of 30 June on the streets of New Cross looking for a house to burgle.

The prosecution allegation, based on CCTV images, is that around 5.30am Sonnex and Farmer broke into Mr Bonomo's flat and disturbed the sleeping students, who had only moved to London weeks earlier. The suggestion is that they stole mobile phones and computer games, then tied up the pair and demanded the PINs to their bank cards, which Mr Bonomo and Mr Ferez provided. Mr Aylett continued: "They must have thought that all they had to do was co-operate while the burglars helped themselves to whatever they wanted and it would all soon be over. Whatever the burglars had in mind, those young men could not, for a moment, have anticipated that they would have been subjected to such an attack. Otherwise, you may think, they would have fought for their lives."

The prosecution claims that Sonnex took the bank cards to nearby cash machines while Farmer kept watch on the victims. Sonnex withdrew £360 from Mr Bonomo's account, but was unable to get anything from Mr Ferez's account as the machine swallowed the card. Mr Aylett said the "inhuman" murders were in revenge.

He added: "They subjected their victims to over two hours of the most hideous terror and suffering. And for what? £360, a couple of telephones and two PlayStation games: enough to keep them in drugs for a few days."

Jurors were shown pictures of the scene and given details of injuries both men suffered. The judge apologised to them, saying that they were the "most distressing photographs you will ever see". Mr Bonomo's fiancée, Marie Bertez, fled the court in tears as it was stated that her partner had suffered "a prolonged, determined and very violent attack".

The court was told that Mr Bonomo was stabbed in the head, face, neck, back, chest, stomach, arms, hands and legs. It was, Mr Aylett said, "a truly startling and ferocious attack". Mr Ferez was stabbed in the eyes, the head, neck and chest. The judge granted the jury a break after one juror, clearly distressed, sent a note asking for a short recess.

The jury was told that both Sonnex and Farmer had a history of similar violence. Mr Aylett explained that Sonnex had a previous conviction from 2002 when, aged 16, he stabbed another youth three times in a row over a car.

And he told of another incident, for which Sonnex was not charged, which happened in February 2008, three months before the New Cross murders. On that occasion he had tied up his foster sister and her partner in their own home, threatened them with a hammer and a saw and demanded money. The jury was also told that Farmer has a previous conviction. In 1996 he robbed a man at knife-point, forcing him to hand over his bank card and PIN.

Mr Aylett said both men would blame each other for the New Cross murders. He claimed it was Farmer's defence that he had not taken part in the burglary and had been forced to set the fire by Sonnex because he was scared. He pleads not guilty to arson on the grounds of duress.

Sonnex, the court heard, will admit to being involved in the burglary, but will claim that he simply acted as a lookout for a "friend". He admits that he stood outside the flat and accepted stolen goods and bank cards through the window. He later accepted that he was inside the flat, but says he did not stab either Mr Ferez or Mr Bonomo.

But, Mr Aylett continued, a woman called Fay Culyer told police that both men had given her accounts of what happened. She says that Farmer told her that Sonnex had stabbed the men first and that he, Farmer, had been given the knife to "finish them off". Days later she met Sonnex who told her that Farmer started it and had "gone on the rampage". She says that Sonnex, too, admitted stabbing the men.

Sonnex, of Deptford, and Farmer, of no fixed abode, deny murder. The trial continues.