French couple sentenced to life for murdering au pair in London

Parents of murdered French au-pair Sophie Lionnet, Catherine Devallonne (2R) and Patrick Lionnet (L) leave the Old Bailey, London’s Central Criminal Court, in central London on June 26, 2018 after hearing the sentence handed down to their daughter’s murderers. (AFP)
Updated 26 June 2018
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French couple sentenced to life for murdering au pair in London

LONDON: A French couple living in Britain who tortured and murdered their au pair and tried to dispose of the body in a back garden bonfire have been sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 30 years.
The Old Bailey court in London sentenced Sabrina Kouider, who is undergoing psychiatric treatment, and Ouissem Medouni for the September 2017 killing of 21-year-old Sophie Lionnet, after a two-month trial ended on May 24 with their convictions.
“Sophie was a kind, gentle and good natured girl,” said Judge Nicholas Hilliard. “The suffering and the torture you put her through before her death was prolonged and without pity.”
He added: “I’m sure on all the evidence you were both involved.”
The jury deliberated for a week before unanimously convicting Kouider and ruling by a majority decision of 10 to 2 that her partner Medouni was also guilty.
Both had denied murdering Lionnet, from Troyes in eastern France, although they had admitted to burning her body.
The court heard how the couple had interrogated and tortured Lionnet over their belief she was conspiring with one of Kouider’s ex-boyfriends — Mark Walton, a former member of Irish band Boyzone — who they claimed sexually abused members of their family.
“She died as a result of purposeful and sustained violence, and not by accident,” state prosecutor Aisling Hosein said when they were convicted.
“They were both jointly involved and came up with a plan to try and destroy her body and escape responsibility for this horrendous crime.”
Kouider, who has two children, apologized to her victim in a letter read out in court Tuesday.
“I’m suffering every day thinking of you and what happened to you that dreadful night,” she said.
“I only wish I could turn the clock back, it never happened and you would be alive with us today.”
Icah Peart, Kouider’s lawyer, said his client was suffering from an “overwhelming and obsesssional fear” over Walton and “everything she did was absolutely driven by delusional disorder.”
Medouni’s lawyer Orlando Pownall insisted Kouider had been the “dominant” party and his client was “indoctrinated.”
The victim’s mother called the duo “monsters” in a statement read in court last month.
Catherine Devallonne said she “fell into shock and was hospitalized” after police broke the news that her daughter, whom she described as a “reserved young girl,” had been killed.
“I’ve been living this nightmare ever since,” she added. “Those monsters beat her to death. They left her hungry. They took away her dignity and eventually her life.”
Police described how Lionnet was subjected to a “series of ‘interrogations’... over a 12-day period, in a bid to force Sophie to admit various false crimes they had accused her of.”
Kouider, who admitted during the trial that she hit Lionnet “really bad” with an electrical cable, filmed some of the sessions. They had planned to hand them over to police as evidence of the au pair’s guilt.
“We will never know the full extent of the horrors Sophie had to endure,” said Scotland Yard detective Domenica Catino.
“Even in death, the torture, abuse and humiliation continued by placing her partially-clothed body into a suitcase with no regard for even a semblance of a burial.
“It was clear that together the couple made the decision to torture Sophie and then in a cowardly fashion blamed each other for her death,” added the detective.
Firefighters discovered Medouni trying to burn Lionnet’s body on September 20 at the couple’s home in Southfields, south-west London.
Neighbours alerted the authorities after noticing smoke and a “horrible” smell coming from the property.
Firefighter Thomas Hunt told the court that he confronted Medouni after he found human fingers and a nose as he put out the fire.


Scotland will prepare for a second independence vote regardless of UK: FM Nicola Sturgeon

Updated 11 min 48 sec ago
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Scotland will prepare for a second independence vote regardless of UK: FM Nicola Sturgeon

EDINBURGH: Scotland will start preparing for an independence referendum before May 2021 without permission from London, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Wednesday.
Scotland, part of the United Kingdom for more than 300 years, rejected independence by 10 percentage points in a 2014 referendum. But differences over Brexit have strained relations with England and the British government in London.
"A choice between Brexit and a future for Scotland as an independent European nation should be offered in the lifetime of this parliament," Sturgeon told Scotland's devolved parliament.
She said a devolved parliament bill would be drawn up before the end of 2019, and that Scotland did not need permission at this stage from London.
London's approval, however, would eventually be necessary "to put beyond doubt or challenge our ability to apply the bill to an independence referendum," she said.
The United Kingdom voted 52-48 to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum, but while Wales and England vote to leave, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay.
In the campaign for the 2014 independence referendum, unionists said that the only way for Scotland to stay in the EU was to remain within the United Kingdom. The Scottish National Party (SNP), which controls the devolved parliament in Edinburgh, says that a second referendum is justified as Scotland is now being dragged out of the bloc against its will.
With most Scots unhappy at Brexit, Sturgeon is under pressure from independence supporters to offer a clear way forward in the quest to break from the United Kingdom.
Britain is mired in political chaos and it is still unclear whether, when or even if it will leave the European Union.
John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University and Britain's leading polling expert, said Sturgeon was keeping her own troops happy while leaving her options open.
She probably has until October or November of 2020 to hold a new vote once Brexit happens, he said.
Since Scots rejected independence 55-45 percent in 2014, polls show that support has changed little. Grassroots supporters will launch a new campaign this week before the SNP spring conference this weekend.
"I think she was implicitly acknowledging that while it might be impossible (to get permission) out of the current (UK) parliament, it might be a lot easier if we get a general election between now and the end of the year, and the SNP may well find itself in the kingmaker role," Curtice told Reuters.
Her address took a noticeably conciliatory tone.
"The question that confronts us now is this: if the status quo is not fit for purpose - and I know even some of the most committed believers in the union find it hard to argue that it is - how do we fix it?" she said.
Those who want to maintain the United Kingdom argue that Brexit has made no difference to how Scots feel, and the secession vote should not be repeated.
"Nicola Sturgeon continues to press for divisive constitutional change when it is clear that most people in Scotland do not want another independence referendum," said David Mundell, Britain's Scotland minister.
Sturgeon argued that leaving the world's largest trading bloc endangers Britain and Scotland's economic well-being.
"We face being forced to the margins, sidelined within a UK that is itself increasingly sidelined on the international stage. Independence by contrast would allow us to protect our place in Europe."