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

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.

US regrets Afghan civilian deaths, says answer is peace

Updated 38 min 41 sec ago

US regrets Afghan civilian deaths, says answer is peace

  • International and pro-government forces were responsible for the deaths of 305 civilians in the first three months of the year, UN says

WASHINGTON: The US envoy negotiating with the Taliban voiced regret Thursday over findings that US-backed forces were killing more civilians than the militants, and said the solution was a peace deal.

A UN report released found that international and pro-government forces were responsible for the deaths of 305 civilians in the first three months of the year.

“We deeply regret any loss of innocent life during military operations. We never target innocents,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, the US negotiator who is set shortly to resume talks with the Taliban in Qatar on ending the war.

“War is treacherous, and unintended consequences are devastating. While we strive to prevent casualties, real solution is a cease-fire or reduced violence as we pursue lasting peace,” he tweeted.

Khalilzad appealed to the Taliban and other Afghans to “work to make this the year of peace.”

He struck a different tone than the spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, Col. Dave Butler, who said the US pursued “the highest standards of accuracy and accountability” and that troops “reserve the right of self-defense.”

President Donald Trump is eager to find a negotiated way to pull out troops and end the longest-ever US war.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, with whom the Taliban refuse to negotiate, has called for next week a “loya jirga,” a traditional gathering of all the country’s communities, although it is unclear how broad the attendance will be.

Officials in Kabul said the Taliban ambushed a security convoy in western Afghanistan, killing nine policemen, and in Kabul, a would-be attacker died when a bomb he was trying to plant at a private university detonated prematurely.

According to a councilman in western Farah province, Abdul Samad Salehi, the ambush took place in Anardara district as the convoy was heading to defuse a roadside bomb on Wednesday afternoon.

Shortly after the attack, other Taliban insurgents targeted and briefly overran the district police headquarters, setting off hours-long clashes, Salehi said. Reinforcements arrived later and managed to wrest back control of the headquarters.

In Kabul, a bomb meant to target the private Jahan University blew up apparently prematurely inside a campus bathroom, killing the suspected militant and wounding three students.

Basir Mujahid, spokesman for the Kabul police chief, said the blast took place around 10:30 a.m.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion but the Taliban and Daesh have targeted schools and placed of education in the past.

Also on Thursday, unidentified gunmen wounded a local reporter in eastern Nangarhar province, said Farid Khan, spokesman for the provincial police chief.

Khan said Emran lemar, a reporter for the Mazal radio station, was shot inside a park in the provincial capital of Jalalabad. He was hospitalized and a police investigation into the attack has begun, Khan said.

In March, Sultan Mahmoud Khirkhowa, a local TV journalist in eastern Khost province, was shot and killed when two men on a motorcycle opened fire on his vehicle. The Daesh affiliate claimed the attack in Khost.