Three guilty of murder over Leicester shop explosion

(left to right) Hawkar Hassan, Arkan Ali and Aram Kurd, who have been convicted at Leicester Crown Court of murdering five people in a shop explosion.
(left to right) Hawkar Hassan, Arkan Ali and Aram Kurd, who have been convicted at Leicester Crown Court of murdering five people in a shop explosion.

Three men who killed five people in a "bomb-like" shop blast have been convicted of murder and plotting to claim a £300,000 insurance pay-out.

Arkan Ali, Hawkar Hassan and Aram Kurd used "many, many litres of petrol" in an arson attack on Kurd's supermarket - causing an explosion which completely destroyed the shop and a flat above the premises.

Leicester Crown Court heard how some residents living near the Polish supermarket on Hinckley Road, Leicester, thought a bomb had reduced the property to rubble.

A five-week trial was told the defendants left shop worker Viktorija Ijevleva, 22, to die in the building because she was aware of the insurance policy taken out less than three weeks earlier.

Opening the Crown's case at the start of the trial, prosecutor David Herbert QC told a jury of seven women and five men the defendants intended to maximise the damage to the premises and "would have known" people would have been in the two-storey flat above.

Ali, 38, Hassan, 33, and Kurd, 34, were assisted by a Kurdish interpreter throughout the trial after denying murder and alternative counts of manslaughter.

But they were unanimously found guilty of five counts of murder after 11 hours and 26 minutes of deliberations.

The trio were also convicted of conspiring with Ms Ijevleva to make a gain, by dishonestly pursuing an insurance claim in respect of the fire.

Ms Ijevleva, Mary Ragoobeer, 46, her teenage sons Shane and Sean, and 18-year-old Leah Beth Reek, 18, who was Shane's girlfriend, were all killed in the blast on Sunday February 25.

Around 26 litres of petrol was used to start the fire in the basement of the supermarket, triggering a massive explosion at 7.01pm.

CCTV and traffic camera footage released by police at the end of the trial shows people escaping from a nearby takeaway moments after the explosion, and rubble being blasted into the roadway as cars pass by.

Footage recovered by police from a neighbouring business showed Ali in shot three days before the blast - moments before the camera angle was moved.

Further images from the same CCTV unit a day before the fire showed a gloved hand moving the camera angle again - at a time when all three defendants were nearby.

Kurd was also recorded on a security camera as he escaped from the scene at the rear of the shop.

Ali, of Drake Close, Oldham, Hassan, of Eld Road, Coventry, and Kurd, of Hillary Place, Leicester, were remanded in custody and will be sentenced in mid-January.

During his opening address, Mr Herbert told jurors: "The explosion and the proceeding fire demolished a building and killed five people in the building - one person who was in the shop and four who were in the flat above enjoying a peaceful night in."

Mr Herbert said: "Even on camera 50 metres away you can see the explosion and the enormity of what happened.

"It was an explosion, the prosecution say, caused by many, many litres of petrol.

"The explosion and the fire that followed was deliberately caused by these defendants who intended to profit from loss of stock, contents and future loss of business from the shop.

"It was not an accident, the prosecution say, that the petrol used caused such devastating damage."

Describing the unlawful killing of Ms Ijevleva, Mr Herbert added: "The defendants thought she knew too much and decided to leave her to die in the explosion that they created.

"In other words, the devastation that they caused was carried out with the intention to kill."

In a statement issued by police after the verdict, Jose Ragoobeer, the husband of Mary, and father of Shane and Sean Ragoobeer, said: "Mary was a hard-working, loving mother and wife who was devoted to her family.

"Shane was in a relationship with a lovely girl called Leah. They were so happy together. Leah was a lovely girl who bought so much joy and happiness to our home.

"Sean was a good person and loving son who like Shane was always willing to help family and friends. He was looking forward to going to university and to study French and history."

The family of Leah said she had been looking forward to training as a nurse.

Speaking outside court, her older sister Molly said: "The light went out of our world on that terrible night. No parent should ever have to arrange a funeral for their child. It is so difficult to put into words how much we miss Leah."