Killer's bid for freedom

A man convicted of killing a Preston mum who was expecting twins is a step closer to having his conviction overturned.

Three judges sitting at the Court of Appeal in London will consider in the next few weeks if former security guard Waseem Mirza, 34, has grounds to appeal.

Mirza, from Brockholes View, Preston, was given a life sentence in January 2001 for strangling 20-year-old Christine Askey in her bath.

During the two-week trial, Preston Crown Court heard how Christine's mother Pauline Coombes called at her daughter's house in Nevett Street in the city and found her dead on November 29, 1999. The prosecution claimed Mirza strangled the former Moor Park High School pupil in a full bath with a piece of clothing as he was "embarrassed and angry" at her claims he was the father of her unborn twins.

Tests have since proved he was not.

The judge, Mr Justice Sachs, branded Mirza "brutal and cowardly".

Det Insp John Crichton, who was one of the officers involved in the murder investigation, said: "He has never admitted that he did it but there is

forensic evidence that connects him with the scene.

"It was a thorough investigation."

He said the victim's mother was aware of Mirza's challenge and was concerned.

A spokesman from the Court of Appeal said a previous application by Mirza's lawyers to appeal against conviction was turned down in June 2003.

She said the latest application to appeal would be heard in around a month.

In November 2003, the Lancashire Evening Post reported how it received an anonymous letter sent from India confessing to the Callon Estate murder.

Detectives said they believed the letter was a hoax.

During the murder trial it was heard Christine's child Cameron Askey, who was three at the time of the offence, was heard screaming by neighbours hours before his mother's body was discovered.

It emerged an injunction had been served on Mirza a year before Christine was killed because he threatened and harassed her when she said he was Cameron's dad.

DNA evidence later revealed he was not Cameron's father.

Mirza, who had an on-off relationship with Christine for around three years, denied murder throughout the trial.

His solicitor, Giovanni Di Stefano, said he expected the appeal to go ahead in two or three months and hopes the evidence of two cigarette butts, holding the DNA of both Mirza and the victim which were found in Christine's sink, will help to clear his client.

He said: "He doesn't deny that he went there, that sexual intercourse took place and that oral sex took place.

"But I think that the two cigarette butts in the sink show that something else happened. Generally speaking, when the man has gone, the woman then tidies up. She doesn't do it right away."

He said that reports show that Mirza has a mental age of just 14.

He also said that Mirza had an injury which affected his right arm and he said that crime scene photos showed paraphernalia including a child's bath toy and an open shampoo bottle on the side of the bath where Christine was found.

This shows, he believes, that Christine was not killed in the bath but placed there afterwards. He said: "You've never drowned anybody in a bath, and I haven't either but I know how it's done.

"It would have caused total mayhem in that bathroom."