Police 'found dying man in bag'

 

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A dying father-of-three was found in a bag in the back of a van, face down and covered with 50kg (110lb) of sand, a court heard today.

Shaleem Amar had been attacked with lump hammers and was bleeding profusely from a wound to his head when police officers discovered him after stopping the white van, jurors at Reading Crown Court were told.

Four men inside the vehicle, all business colleagues of Mr Amar, had been followed by a police car after leaving the 33-year-old's rented home in Sunningdale, Berkshire, where it is alleged the attack took place.

When the vehicle was pulled over on the afternoon of November 17 last year, police officers noticed the men's clothing was covered in blood - but one of them claimed he was a decorator, and that it was paint.

It was some time later, after one of the men had escaped and been recaptured and the others had been detained, that Mr Amar was discovered.

One of the policemen had gone to the back of the van to retrieve a piece of rope to restrain one of the defendants, as he had already used his set of handcuffs, but it was only when he returned it that he noticed the sand in the bag was moving up and down.

Robert Johnston, known as Derek, and his sons Tom, 25, Ben, 27, and business associate Shaun Matthews, 55, are alleged to have killed Mr Amar in his kitchen, mounting a clean-up operation before his wife arrived at the home.

The jurors heard Mrs Amar unknowingly walked past the van in which her husband lay trapped and fatally injured, and was told he had gone to an airport to pick someone up and would return later.

After telling the men she would lock up, Mrs Amar tried calling her husband on his mobile phone but there was no answer.

Noel Lucas QC, prosecuting, said: "At that point in time, her husband had been put into a bag in the back of the van and two 25kg bags of sand had been opened and poured over him."

The men left the property in the van, and were followed by an unmarked police vehicle which stopped them on the A30.

Noel Lucas QC, prosecuting, said: "None of the defendants volunteered any information indicating there was a dying man lying in a rubble bag, covered with sand, in the back of the van.

"Although police officers had looked in the back of the van, they had not seen the man."

The bag had been covered with clothes and blankets, the jury was told.

Describing the moment the policeman found Mr Amar buried face-down in sand, Mr Lucas said: "He was about to search the bag when he saw the sand moving up and down.

"He looked more closely, and saw someone's back. He then saw the person's legs had been folded into the bag but one foot was sticking out.

"He could not see the man's head. It was not visible. It had been buried under the sand."

To get Mr Amar out, the policeman had to haul the bag out of the van, and then pull the man out with his hands.

Mr Amar had his eyes closed and officers could hear shallow breaths. He was bleeding from his ears, nose and from a wound to his head that was six to eight inches long.

Officers were joined by a passing nurse and then by paramedics, but their efforts to save Mr Amar failed and he was pronounced dead on the roadside.

He had suffered severe head injuries, a fractured cheekbone and defensive wounds to his hands.

Blood-stained hammers were found in a satchel in the footwell of the van, jurors were told.

Johnston senior, 57, his two sons, all from Pampisford, Cambridgeshire, and Matthews, from Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire, are jointly charged with murder, which they all deny.

Mr Lucas said the defendants were "caught red-handed" by police after leaving Mr Amar's spacious home.

The property, called Tresanton, had a Jacuzzi, swimming pool and gym, and had been rented out by him two months previously under a different name.

His wife and children were living nearby but visited him often.

The jury heard there was no clear motive for murder. However, the men had asked Mr Amar for money in preparation for Christmas, but he told them there was none available.

Mr Lucas told them: "Mrs Amar speaks about the business links between her husband and the Johnstons.

"She was informed that the Johnstons wanted money from her husband as it was Christmas, and he told them money was tied up in investments, but they were insistent.

"He told his wife he was in a tricky situation."

Mrs Amar understood her husband worked for Rossmoor, an investment commodities company, the court was told.

Mr Lucas added: "Whatever the motive, the facts of this case point precisely to these defendants being responsible for the murder of Shaleem Amar.

"You may come to the conclusion that they literally were caught red-handed."

The men made shopping trips to a Cambridgeshire builders' merchants the day before the murder and on the morning of the day itself, the court heard.

The jury of six men and six women was shown CCTV footage from Ridgeons Builders Merchants in Pampisford, Cambridgeshire.

It showed the men buying items including a wheelbarrow, a shovel, two 2.5lb lump hammers and a third hammer with a fibreglass handle.

Mr Lucas said there had been "a plan for what was to take place" and preparations made for how the body would be disposed.

The trial, which is expected to run until mid-December, was adjourned until tomorrow, when the prosecution opening will be completed.

PA