A man has been sentenced to life imprisonment at the Old Bailey for murdering an elderly allotment association secretary by strangling her with a lawnmower cord at plots in Colindale.
Rahim Mohammadi, 42 (24.07.76) of Goldsmith Row, E2, was told on Friday, 30 November that he must serve a minimum of 19 years before he will be considered for parole, following his conviction at the same court yesterday, Thursday, 29 November, of killing 80-year-old Lea Adri-Soejoko inside a shed at the plots in February last year.
This verdict followed a retrial.
The judge in the case, QC Richard Marks, commended the handling of the case by the Met's Homicide and Major Crime Command team, led by Detective Chief Inspector Noel McHugh. He praised the officers for the 'thoroughness' of their investigation and for 'leaving no stone unturned' in their pursuit of justice. He also paid tribute to the family for their conduct throughout the past two years.
DCI McHugh, from the Homicide and Major Crime Command, said: "Although I never had the privilege of meeting Lea, we have learnt what a lovely caring, lady she was, like everyone's mum or gran. She was a real pillar of the community, a sprightly 80-year-old grandmother who was very active in her local neighbourhood and secretary of Colindale Allotment Association.
"Mohammadi was a fellow plot-holder and someone she had known for some years. He was an aggressive, threatening and highly manipulative man and there had been previous issues with him at the allotments. There is no doubt that Lea was very uncomfortable around him; it could best be described that she tolerated him but Lea would ultimately pay with her life.
"We don't know exactly what happened on the day Lea was killed, but we know there must have been some kind of argument which led to Mohammadi brutally attacking her. Knowing he would be in very serious trouble for what he had done, he went a step further and murdered her in the hope he would never been found out.
"I would like to commend the outstanding work carried out by my team to gather the extensive evidence which has led to Mohammadi's conviction today.
"I would also like to pay tribute to the respect and dignity shown by Lea's family which has been extraordinary in such terrible circumstances. This crime has torn their family apart and sent shockwaves through a close-knit community. Mohammadi is a violent, evil, and volatile individual and he will spend many years in prison as a result of his appalling actions."
The court heard that Lea's granddaughter, who was living with her at the time in Colindale, arrived home around 18:45hrs on 27 February 2017 to find no one there.
The alarm was raised when Lea, who was widowed and had three children and five grandchildren, then failed to meet a friend to attend a meeting in Whetstone, N20 later that evening. This was completely out of character, particularly as she had been seen by a former plot holder that afternoon near her home and was reportedly fine and her usual self.
A search by friends and family began before they visited Colindale police station at 01:40hrs on 28 February 2017 to report her missing.
Officers began an immediate search, arriving at the allotments shortly after 02:00hrs.
Family members again tried called Lea's phone and a ringing sound could be heard in the darkness and quiet of the plots.
Police tracked the sound to a locked shed on the eastern side of the allotments close to Sheaveshill Avenue. They forced entry and found Lea dead inside. Her face was covered with an old blue coat and the starter cord of a lawnmower inside the shed was wrapped tightly around her neck.
A post-mortem examination determined cause of death as ligature compression of the neck. Lea had other injuries consistent with being assaulted, including fractures to her ribs and one of her spinal bones plus several cuts and bruises. It is believed she was beaten before being strangled with the lawnmower cord.
Enquiries established that the killer must have had his own key to unlock the shed and then lock it again. Lea's allotment keys were found still on her person although her house keys were missing and have never been found.
She was found wearing wellington boots and an apron under her coat, not clothes for a meeting. It was determined she must have visited the allotments mid-afternoon on the Monday and was then attacked.
Mohammedi had held a plot since April 2013 and was a keen and active user of the allotments. He visited frequently and was well-known to the other plot holders including Lea. He was also a member of the allotment committee and held a set of keys, including one for the shed.
CCTV and witness evidence proved he was there on 27 February, setting out from his home late morning and spending more than five hours in and around the allotments. Mobile phone analysis also put him in the area.
The lawnmower cord was tested and traces of Mohammedi's DNA found on it.
Mohammedi was initially interviewed twice as a witness, along with other plot holders. His account of his movements on 27 February was inconsistent. He admitted visiting Lea's home, close to the allotments, twice that day, once apparently to borrow a key to the plot's main gate and then to return a tape measure, although his story later changed. CCTV showed he wasn't in various places when he said he was.
He was arrested on 3 March 2017 and charged two days later.
The court heard that Mohammedi was known by other plot-holders for his threatening, aggressive and sometimes violent behaviour. In September 2016 he told Lea to "shut up" during an allotment association meeting which shocked others and distressed her. People who knew her said she was then "wary" of him but it appears his behaviour was mostly ignored or tolerated by the plot-holders.
It is believed he attacked her in a spontaneous outburst on 27 February and, knowing a serious physical assault would not be ignored or tolerated, killed her to stop her speaking out and the inevitable loss of his plot.
Mohammedi will be sentenced on Friday, 30 November at 15:30hrs.
In a victim impact statement Lea's family, said: "Lea was our mother and grandmother, but she was also a sister, an aunty and a friend to so many. She gave her time, trust and forgiveness to all and at 80 years old she was not jaded or cynical.
"In Amber's words 'We were having fun'.
"There was no way she nor we could have known what would happen - but she deserved so much more. She deserved more time and more respect. Her murder was a betrayal of the worst kind.
"All anyone hopes is for a peaceful and pain free end for their parents when the time comes. The agony of knowing what horror she endured and how she suffered is an indescribable torture, to which there is no closure. This can never be put right, erased or undone. She has been stolen from us and the theft of her has left a void in our hearts that nothing can truly fill. Nothing will make it less horrific or agonising.
"Our mum/nan was fit, healthy and happy, supporting us through thick and thin.
"There was no reason that she could not have been here for us for many years to come, eager to share in the lives of her great grandchildren, those she now will never see.
"This long and exhausting trial has been a mountain to climb.
"Even now we struggle to maintain composure at times in public. It feels often as though we are living someone else's life - that this nightmare simply cannot be ours. We close our eyes and hope it's just a dream but it's still there, it's true, Mum/Nan is really gone.
"Through the tireless efforts of the Homicide Command, the Crown Prosecution Service, the jury and barristers we have uncovered the truth amidst the lies.
"We say again there will be no closure.
"There will always be a part of us that remains in that shed with her the day she died. We cannot change that, we could not protect her when she needed us most.
"Mum's murder tore the heart out of our family, but we are lucky to have only good memories of her and the light of her love and strength within us will keep us strong.
"We have been given hope through our justice system in knowing that there are consequences to incomprehensible actions. We have succeeded in taking a dangerous, evil and cunning man off the streets so he cannot hurt another innocent person like our beautiful, blessed mum/nan. He has shown not a shred of mercy at all. Neither in his vicious act nor in his complete lack of remorse.
"Above all Mum had such strength and commitment to tolerance and fairness, volunteering her time without complaint or reward for the wellbeing of others. She loved life and lived it with humble grace. That someone so kind could be treated this way is unforgivable and we will miss her desperately for the rest of our lives."
+ On Thursday, 15 February the jury in Mohammadi's first trial failed to reach a verdict and a retrial was scheduled.