LONDON: An alleged hitman accused of shooting dead a 19-year-old Lebanese woman in the UK has admitted killing her and has changed his plea in the middle of an ongoing trial.
Aya Hachem, 19, was hit by a bullet fired from a vehicle near her home in May 2020 in the northern English town of Blackburn, and according to a post-mortem examination, died as a result of the gunshot.
The law student was shopping for groceries at the time, and police confirmed that she was not the intended victim of the shooting, adding that she was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Zamir Raja, 33, is one of eight people on trial accused of her murder and has admitted manslaughter after initially denying any involvement.
Despite Raja’s change in plea on June 18, the prosecution said that it will continue to push for a murder conviction and alleges that the shooting was the culmination of a long-running dispute between two tire salesmen in the town, the Daily Mail newspaper reported.
The court heard from prosecution lawyers that Raja was allegedly hired by one of the tire salesmen to kill the other, but ended up shooting Hachem in the bungled attack.
“As your Lordship knows, that plea is not acceptable to The Crown and we propose to continue against Mr Raja,” Nicholas Johnson for the prosecution said to Judge Mr. Justice Mark Turner.
Turner, addressing the jury, said: “By way of brief explanation, the position of the prosecution is that they continue to assert that Mr. Raja is guilty of murder.
“As you have heard he has pleaded guilty to manslaughter, but because the prosecution wish to proceed on the murder charge — as they are entitled to elect — the trial will continue.”
Hachem and her family moved as refugees to the UK from Lebanon when she was a young girl.
“Our beautiful 19-year-old daughter Aya has been taken from us in the most horrific circumstances,” her family said in a statement shortly after her death last year.
“She was the most loyal, devoted daughter who enjoyed spending time with her family, especially her brothers and sisters Ibraham, Assil and Amir.”
Aya had excelled during her time at high school in Blackburn and was in her second year at Salford University where she was studying to become a solicitor, according to her family.
At the time of her death, she had just completed her second year exams and was also learning to drive, they added.