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Pair sentenced to life for shopkeeper murder

Tuesday 16 November 2010 13:52 GMT

Two men were jailed for life today for murdering a shopkeeper they battered to death with wine bottles from his shelves during a botched robbery.

Gurmail Singh, 63, was attacked for just a few pounds, some sweets, alcohol and cigarettes during a bungled raid at his shop in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, in February.

Muawaz Khalid, 20, was told he must spend at least 21 years in prison by a judge at Bradford Crown Court.

Nabeel Shafi, 18, was given a 20 year minimum term.

There were dramatic scenes in court as the two murderers were sentenced.

Shafi shouted: "That's not right. I'm innocent. I never touched anyone. You've got the wrong guy."

His supporters joined in the shouting before they left the court.

Mr Justice Henriques said he accepted the murder was not premeditated, but the attack was carried out on a vulnerable man carrying out a public service.

He said: "This was a most violent and sickening attack by at least two of you on a lone shopkeeper late at night.

"It is to be regretted that no defendant at any time during the eight-week trial showed the slightest remorse."

Mr Singh died as a result of a "robbery gone wrong".

He "did not meekly hand over his property, his hard-earned money" to a gang of robbers who targeted his shop, the court was told.

Smokers outside the pub opposite the shop realised something was wrong when they saw two of the robbers running from the scene.

Gang member Rehman Afzal, 18, was sentenced to five years and four months for his part in the robbery. Umare Aslam, 20, received a six-and-a-half-year sentence for robbery.

Shoaib Khan, 18, received an eight-month sentence for assisting an offender, but will be released because of time already served on remand.

Aslam, of Coniston Avenue, Dalton, Huddersfield; Khalid, of Blackmoorfoot Road, Huddersfield; Khan, of Calton Street, Hillhouse, Huddersfield; Shafi, of Park Hill, Bradley, Huddersfield; and Afzal, of Jacinth Court, Fartown, Huddersfield, all denied murder.

But Aslam, Afzal and Khan were cleared of murder following a six week long trial.

Khalid and Aslam were convicted of robbery, while Khan was cleared of the charge.

Afzal and Shafi pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to robbing Mr Singh.

Khan, who was released from custody 20 days before the robbery after serving a sentence for assault, admitted the charge of assisting an offender.

After the convictions police described Mr Singh as a "very good man", adding: "He was extremely hard working, well liked, well respected by all of his village community."

The jury heard how members of the public came to Mr Singh's aid.

One man trapped two members of the gang inside by holding the door shut but they got out of a back door after desperate attempts to smash their way out of the front, prosecutors said.

Both these suspects were tackled by other members of the public but managed to free themselves and get away, the court was told.

The court heard the shopkeeper came to England from India in 1963 and raised his family in Huddersfield. He bought the Cowcliffe shop about five years ago.

In July, six months after Mr Singh's death, his sons Bobby and Jas Hayre reopened the shop after a full refit.

After the trial, Mr Singh's family revealed the Prince of Wales had written a letter to his widow expressing his sympathy.

Jas Hayre said Charles had sent a letter to his mother after the murder, saying: "This country can ill-afford to lose such special people".

He said his family had been left "devastated" by the killing.

After today's hearing the family said they did not want to comment.

Mr Singh has been described as a pillar of the community of Cowcliffe, where he lived and worked.

His customers recalled how he would work from dawn until dusk in the store, seven days a week, taking provisions to pensioners and even delivering papers in the snow from his sledge.

Outside court, Mr Singh's friend, Inderpal Singh Randhawa - who is also the general secretary of the local Sikh Temple - said the murder had had a devastating effect on the community.

He said: "It is a very terrible shock to the community.

"Mr Gurmail Singh was a very honest person.

"I knew him for the last 20 years and he never, ever said anything wrong to anybody.

"He's a person who was always respected in the Sikh community and he always came to the Sikh Temple."

He added: "I think he's been in this country for 40 or 50 years. He had no trouble with anybody."

Asked to comment on Mr Singh's bravery in standing up to the raiders, he said: "I'm a newsagent shopkeeper as well.

"When you work for single pennies, when you're selling 25p newspapers and only making two pennies, you can't give money to people who come in asking for money.

"You have to defend yourself and that's what he's done."

Also outside court, Shafi's father, Mohammed Shafi, continued to protest his son's innocence and said he planned to appeal against the conviction.

Mr Justice Henriques said the victim's skull had been shattered into "little pieces" by the force of the blows.

"One blow would have disabled him, seven blows took his life away," he said.

"One of the sad features of this case is at least three of you, if not four, are extremely intelligent, bright young men," the judge said.

"If Gurmail Singh had abandoned his property and money and said 'take what you want boys' he would not have lost his life. He was too brave for that."

The judge said the victim was a man in his early 60s, although he conceded he was not a frail old man.

"There may have been mental or physical suffering inflicted on the victim before death, in the sense this was a sickeningly violent and unnecessarily savage assault on a man in his 60s."

The court was read a statement by Mr Singh's youngest son, Jas Hayre. He spoke of his family's devastation.

He said: "I have lived with my father all my life. On February 20 this year my father said goodbye to his family and went to work in the village shop.

"The next time I saw him was unconscious in a pool of blood in our shop.

He said the murder had "completely devastated" his mother who suffers from terminal cancer.

"She needed 100% support from my dad to help her cope with the decisions of life."

He said his father's "bond and devotion to my mother was unequalled".

She misses him terribly and has left a huge gap in his mother's life, the statement added.

"It is the words we miss the most, words like work hard, be honest in your endeavours, show respect and good manners...never be afraid to stand up for you morals and principles."

"Each day is a nightmare, praying that it is all a dream, knowing that it is a reality," the statement said.

"We have sat through the trial from beginning and when listening to those accused I see no remorse from them whatsoever."

He said family members were forced to hide their feelings and thoughts from their children "hoping they will never feel the hatred and revulsion towards the persons responsible."

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