Man jailed for killing mother and son two decades ago

01/10/2013

A former Stoke-on-Trent man has been jailed for 15 years after pleading guilty to the manslaughter of a mother and her son and arson with intent to endanger life.

Faisal Latif appeared at Stafford Crown Court today, Tuesday, and admitted responsibility for the deaths of Marilyn and Nicholas Cook more than 21 years ago.

He was sentenced to 15 years for manslaughter and 10 years for arson with intent to endanger life, to run concurrently.

The 44-year-old was arrested in Dallas, Texas, USA, in January, following a long-running investigation by Staffordshire Police to bring him to justice.

Latif was due to stand trial for murder but today entered guilty pleas for manslaughter and arson with intent to endanger life, which were accepted by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Marilyn Cook and her son Nicholas Cook died following a house fire at their home in Travers Street, Middleport, on 9 April 1992.

Marilyn was pulled alive from the fire but never regained consciousness and died in hospital several days later. Sadly Nicholas died in the fire.

The 40-year-old and her 16-year-old son lived at the Travers Street property with Stephen Hillman, Marilyn's partner. He survived the fire but suffered serious injuries. He has since passed away, but not as a result of the fire.

The results of the post-mortem examinations for Marilyn and Nicholas gave their cause of death as smoke inhalation.

Latif was landlord at the Travers Street property and claimed he experienced problems with his tenants, Marilyn and Stephen.

He claimed the property was in a reasonable condition before they moved in, but the state of it quickly deteriorated.  There were also ongoing problems with neighbours, anti-social behaviour at the address and problems collecting rent.

Latif was keen for his tenants to move out and although he did not instigate legal proceedings against them he tried to get rid of them by other means, including sending hired help to persuade or threaten them to leave.

In the early hours of 9 April 1992 neighbours were woken by an explosion which had blown the windows out of the Travers Street address.

An investigation uncovered traces of accelerant in the house and it resulted in an explosion.

A police investigation quickly uncovered that Latif had made hasty arrangements to leave the country on 9 April 1992 and flew to Pakistan the following day. He never returned until he was extradited from the USA to the UK earlier this year.

But Staffordshire Police never gave up on the case. As with all outstanding murder cases it was reviewed on a regular basis as officers were determined to bring Marilyn and Nicholas' killer to justice.

The force's dedicated Fugitive and Extradition Unit - whose role it is to trace and recover those who have fled the country after committing crime in Staffordshire - began to concentrate on Latif.

Officers were able to obtain an International Arrest Warrant and the next step was to find him.

Efforts to trace Latif in Pakistan continued to prove fruitless and in 2010 attention shifted to the USA.

Officers came by information that linked a possible suspect to an area of Dallas, Texas.  The inquiries were frustrated as the suspect had an unfamiliar name of Faiz Ali, so with our US counterparts background checks were carried out on the man named Faiz Ali.

Following months of detailed work Ali was confirmed to be Latif and was identified by his photo driving license and fingerprints.

Ch Insp Sarah Wainwright, senior investigating officer, said: "I hope today's sentencing brings Marilyn and Nicholas' family the comfort and justice they rightly deserve.

"I would like to thank them for their patience and understanding during this protracted investigation and also the dignity they have shown throughout.

"Staffordshire Police never gave up hope of bringing Latif to justice. Although he had fled Stoke-on-Trent and his journey was traced from England to Pakistan to America, we finally got the man responsible for the untimely deaths of a mother and her son.

"He may have created a new life with a new identity, living thousands of miles away from the devastation he caused in Middleport, but he is now starting the sentence he deserves.

"Thanks to the support and assistance of colleagues in America, particularly the District Attorney in Texas, we were able to find, arrest and extradite a man who had escaped justice for over 21 years.

"The message is simple - wherever criminals try and hide they will be found and brought to justice."

Kiernan Cunningham, Special Casework Lawyer from West Midlands Crown Prosecution Service's Complex Casework Unit, said:

"In 1990, Faisal Latif purchased 25 Travers Street, Middleport on the basis that this would be his primary residence, however, as soon as he had bought the terraced house, he began to rent it out. Two years later, his final tenants would be Marilyn Cook and her partner. Marilyn's 16-year-old son, Nicholas, also lived with them.

"During her occupancy rent arrears accrued and as a result Latif decided to evict them, but rather than instigating legal proceedings, he sought to use illegal methods, asking acquaintances for their assistance in evicting them by whatever means available. When those acquaintances refused to help, Latif turned to more sinister tactics which tragically had lethal consequences.

"The subsequent police investigation revealed that Latif hastily made arrangements to flee the country the very same day -obtaining travel documents before flying the following day from Heathrow Airport to Lahore, Pakistan.

"Twenty years later, and after extensive police enquiries, intelligence was received to suggest that Latif was living in the USA under an assumed name. Extradition proceedings were issued and he was returned back to the UK, appearing before the court for the first time on 5 March 2013, just short of 21 years after the fateful fire.

"For two decades the family and friends of Marilyn and Nicholas have endured the heartache of not only losing their loved ones in such tragic circumstances but also the pain of not knowing who committed the horrendous crime, or whether anyone would be brought to justice. Whilst today's plea by Latif will do little to ease the pain and loss over the last 21 years for the family and friends it will, I hope, go some way in relieving the anguish associated with not knowing who committed this awful crime."