Briton sentenced to death for strangling girlfriend in Lagos

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The Independent Online

A British businessman sentenced to hang by a Nigerian court for murdering his Australian girlfriend is to appeal against his sentence, the Foreign Office has confirmed.

Ian Millar, 54, was convicted last week of strangling Anne Marie Gale, 43, at their home in the Lagos harbour area in April 2002. He had pleaded not guilty.

The case against Millar, originally from Scotland but a long-term resident of Nigeria, was largely circumstantial, Justice Grace Onyeabor admitted during the trial at Lagos High Court.

But after hearing from medical experts and the couple's domestic workers, she judged the evidence to be "cogent and compelling" and sentenced the British businessman to hang.

Millar was sent to the maximum security Kirkiri Prison, from where British officials said he would be launching an appeal. "It has been indicated that he will lodge an appeal, although it may not be [heard] until February 2004," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.

Murder carries a mandatory death penalty in Nigeria but no death sentence has been carried out under common law since military rule ended in 1999. However in northern Nigeria, where Islamic Sharia law operates, a man was executed last year for killing a businesswoman and her two children.

The prosecution accused Millar of murdering Ms Gale in 2002, and hiding her body. The couple ran a company called Ian Consultants, but it had run into financial difficulties, one former employee told the court. Millar was arrested shortly after Ms Gale's body was found. Since then he has been largely confined to hospital, where he has been treated for diabetes.

Millar's lawyers, who had been briefed by the British High Commission in Lagos, said the prosecution had failed to prove the case against him beyond reasonable doubt.

Executions of Britons are rare in Africa. In 1960 Peter Poole was hanged by the colonial administration in Kenya for shooting an African he caught flogging his dog.

Under Nigerian law, the state governor of Lagos has the power to commute the death sentence. British diplomats in Nigeria said that they would be taking further legal advice.

A spokesman for the British High Commission said yesterday: "We are resolutely opposed to the use of the death penalty and our prime concern is to avoid the execution of British nationals."