Woman 'battered and set alight by son-in-law'

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A British woman who had a book published about her experiences living in Iraq under Saddam Hussein's regime was battered to death and then set alight by her son-in-law, a court heard today.

Mohammad Soboh, 41, denies murdering Pauline Knowles-Samarraie, 72, whose body was found by firefighters at the home they shared in Grand Crescent, Rottingdean, East Sussex, on April 22 last year.

Opening the case at Lewes Crown Court, prosecutor Alan Kent QC told jurors the case "has a number of elements to it which I suspect you will find quite fascinating".

He said that although Soboh was at the time married to the woman's daughter, Nada, he had once been married to Ms Knowles-Samarraie herself.

The court heard that Ms Knowles-Samarraie met her first husband, an Iraqi national, when he was studying in the UK in the late 1950s, and then moved to the Middle East with him when he was made deputy oil minister under Hussein's regime.

They had two children, Nada and Paul, but he and her husband were later executed, while the two women escaped to the UK.

Mr Kent said that in 2007 Ms Knowles-Samarraie had a book published about her experiences under the dictatorship, entitled I Never Said Goodbye.

However, he added that despite this she remained a "secretive" woman, and did not share her unusual domestic arrangement with her friends.

Soboh is alleged to have repeatedly struck her over the head with a metal lintel and then poured accelerant over her body before setting her alight in a bid to cover his tracks while his wife and their three children were out for the day.

Jurors were shown a transcript of a 999 call made by Soboh at 1.25pm on April 22.

In it he said he had found Ms Knowles-Samarraie alight in the kitchen but he was unable to reach her.

When firefighters arrived six minutes later they found the bungalow smoke-logged and had to crawl through the conservatory on their hands and knees to get to her.

Mr Kent said she was found slumped up against the patio doors which separated the conservatory from the kitchen, with her arms up above her shoulders.

He said they noticed that her body was totally burnt from the waist upwards while the fire was still burning on her thighs.

Ms Knowles-Samarraie was pronounced dead at the scene while Soboh was taken to hospital where he was treated for the effects of smoke inhalation.

A police officer stayed with him and when he was discharged at around 6pm he was arrested on suspicion of Ms Knowles-Samarraie's murder.