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.<br>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.<br>“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.”<br>He added: “I’m sure on all the evidence you were both involved.”<br>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.<br>Both had denied murdering Lionnet, from Troyes in eastern France, although they had admitted to burning her body.<br>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.<br>“She died as a result of purposeful and sustained violence, and not by accident,” state prosecutor Aisling Hosein said when they were convicted.<br>“They were both jointly involved and came up with a plan to try and destroy her body and escape responsibility for this horrendous crime.”<br>Kouider, who has two children, apologized to her victim in a letter read out in court Tuesday.<br>“I’m suffering every day thinking of you and what happened to you that dreadful night,” she said.<br>“I only wish I could turn the clock back, it never happened and you would be alive with us today.”<br>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.”<br>Medouni’s lawyer Orlando Pownall insisted Kouider had been the “dominant” party and his client was “indoctrinated.”<br>The victim’s mother called the duo “monsters” in a statement read in court last month.<br>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.<br>“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.”<br>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.”<br>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.<br>“We will never know the full extent of the horrors Sophie had to endure,” said Scotland Yard detective Domenica Catino.<br>“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.<br>“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.<br>Firefighters discovered Medouni trying to burn Lionnet’s body on September 20 at the couple’s home in Southfields, south-west London.<br>Neighbours alerted the authorities after noticing smoke and a “horrible” smell coming from the property.<br>Firefighter Thomas Hunt told the court that he confronted Medouni after he found human fingers and a nose as he put out the fire.

Karzai urges Ghani to drop truce as pre-condition for talks with Taliban

Updated 21 January 2020

Karzai urges Ghani to drop truce as pre-condition for talks with Taliban

  • Ex-president says Taliban offer to reduce violence a ‘major development’

KABUL: Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has urged President Ashraf Ghani to drop the pre-condition of cease-fire to begin talks with the Taliban amid high hope that the US and Taliban delegates will sign a deal following more than a year of secret discussions.

Speaking in an interview with BBC local service, Karzai said the government “should not block intra-Afghan dialogue under the pretext of cease-fire.” He said the Taliban offer for reduction in violence as the group says is nearing to ink the deal with American diplomats in Qatar, was a “major development.”

He said Ghani needed to accept the Taliban offer.

Ghani says truce is a must ahead of starting any negotiations with the Taliban calling reduction in violence a general term and arguing that such a call by the Taliban political leaders in Qatar only goes to show that they have control over field commanders back in Afghanistan.

The Taliban say the group will announce truce when the intra-Afghan dialogue begins which will happen after Washington sets timetable for withdrawal of the troops.

Washington at least on one occasion called off the talks with the Taliban in Qatar due to Taliban attacks back in Afghanistan as discussions continued in Qatar despite none of the warring sides having committed to halt offensives during the talks.

Ghani’s government has been sidelined from all rounds of talks between the Taliban delegates and US diplomats led by Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar. There has also been rift between Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who shares power with the president in the National Unity Government, on the pre-condition of cease-fire.

Unlike Ghani, Abdullah is happy with reduction of violence. Talking in a meeting of council of ministers, Abdullah on Monday indirectly said Ghani had taken the peace process in his monopoly.

 “Peace is not one person’s monopoly, one person’s wish — but it is a collective desire, and the people of Afghanistan have the right to take a position regarding the peace process,” said Abdullah.