Four men found guilty of murder - Sunningdale

19/12/2011

Four men have been convicted of murdering a 33-year-old father-of-three who suffered fatal head injuries after being attacked in his home in Sunningdale, Berkshire.

Robert Johnston, known as Derek, aged 57, and his two sons Ben, aged 27 and Tom, aged 25, as well as a fourth man Shaun Matthews, aged 56, have been found guilty of murdering Shaleem Amar by a jury at Reading Crown Court following a trial lasting six-weeks.

Robert Johnston and his son Ben were found guilty by a unanimous verdict on Thursday (15/12), while Tom Johnston and Shaun Matthews were found guilty by a majority verdict today (19/12). Tom Johnston was found guilty by a majority of 10-2, while Matthews was found guilty by a majority of 11-1.

The Johnstons, all of Town Lane, Pampisford, Cambridge and Matthews, of Duxford Road, Whittlesford, Cambridge, will all be sentenced tomorrow (20/12).

During the trial, the jury heard how Mr Amar was a business partner of Robert Johnston.

On 17 November 2010, Robert Johnston, his two sons Ben and Tom, and Matthews, drove from their homes in Cambridge to Mr Amars home in Hancocks Mount, Sunningdale - a luxury property called Tresanton which he began renting in September 2010.

Forensic evidence proved Mr Amar was attacked in the kitchen area. He was struck repeatedly in the body and at least seven times to the head during the attack. Lump hammers were used to assault him.

Although he was still alive, Mr Amars body was put into a one-ton gravel sack, placed into the back of the white Mercedes Sprinter van, and covered in sand.

At 12.50pm, Mr Amar's wife Shajiba, who was living with the couples children at a different address, came to visit her husband and saw the white van parked in the driveway of Tresanton with Matthews in the driving seat. She saw Robert Johnston on the driveway and his sons Tom and Ben inside the property.

The men told Mrs Amar that her husband had gone to the airport to collect someone, so she locked the house and left.

A short time later the white van pulled out of Tresanton and was stopped by police officers on the A30 in Sunningdale, just past Broomhill Lane.

Officers could see the men had what appeared to be blood on their clothing. Ben Johnston said the marks were paint.

Officers arrested the men on suspicion of assault, and Matthews and Ben Johnston were restrained using handcuffs.

Robert and Tom Johnston then ran off, with Robert being detained a short distance down the road, and Tom, who did not have any shoes on, being located by a police dog handler in a park a short time later.

Back at the van, an officer discovered the three lump hammers, which were bloodstained, in a bag in the passenger foot well and a search of the van was carried out.

Just before 1.53am, the officer noticed a gravel bag under a blanket and sheets and saw it was moving. He called for help and a second officer came to the van and they both carried the bag out of the van and began attending to Mr Amar, who was partly inside and covered in sand. He was breathing shallowly and had obvious signs of severe injuries.

Despite the attempts of paramedics and an off-duty nurse who stopped to help, Mr Amar died an hour later. A subsequent post-mortem examination carried out by a Home Office pathologist concluded he died from head injuries.

The four men were arrested on suspicion of murder and taken to local police stations for questioning. Robert, Ben and Tom Johnston declined to answer any questions put to them, while Matthews said he was out having a cigarette when the fatal attack took place in Tresanton and helped with the clean-up operation in the house.

However, the jury were shown CCTV evidence of Robert Johnston and Matthews in a builder's merchants called Ridgeons, near Pampisford, Cambridge, the day before the murder (16/11), where they were seen buying items including three two and a half pound lump hammers, one of which Robert Johnston was seen to pound into his hand several times, as if testing its weight, as well as four pairs of gloves, a wheelbarrow, a shovel and rubbish sacks.

At about 9.20am the following day (17/11), before they drove down to Sunningdale, all four men returned to Ridgeons in the van and Robert Johnston purchased eight 25kg bags of sand and a knife.

Forensic examinations proved all four men had Mr Amar's blood on items of their clothing, as did all three of the hammers, one of which had Ben Johnston's palm print on.

Senior investigating officer Det Supt Karen Trego said: "The Johnstons and Matthews bought items which were used to carry out the murder from a builder's yard and drove to Sunningdale on the morning of 17 November with the aim of murdering Mr Amar.

"Although a clear motive for the attack has not been established, we believe the murder was motivated by a breakdown in their business relationship, primarily over money.

"None of the men have shown any remorse throughout the police investigation.

"My thoughts are with the Amar family at this difficult time.

"I want to thank everyone involved with this investigation for their hard work, which has resulted in today's guilty verdicts."

Baljit Ubhey, Chief Crown Prosecutor for Thames and Chiltern Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said: "We were involved in this case with Thames Valley Police at an early stage.  This ensured that advice could be given to enable the police to build the strongest possible case.

"Having reviewed the evidence available, we were in a position to advise charging the four suspects with murder.  They were all brought before the courts, where they pleaded not guilty. The jury has considered the evidence carefully during the trial and has reached the guilty verdicts today.

"The four men convicted today went on a trip on 17 November 2010 to Sunningdale, having purchased three lump hammers the day before the murder from a building merchants in Cambridge.  They also sourced a large builders rubble sack and other items as part of their plan to remove the body.

"The expert evidence given by forensic biologist Lindsay Lennen from LGC Forensics was an important factor in this prosecution. Blood spatter patterns on the defendant's clothes proved that they were in close proximity to Mr Amar at the time he was attacked and that each was therefore involved in this brutal murder.

"Today's verdicts conclude this investigation and will hopefully bring some closure to Mr Amar's family.  Our thoughts remain with them at this time."