Three men who plotted to set fire to a loss-making supermarket in order to make a fraudulent insurance claim have been found guilty of multiple murder.
Shopkeeper Aram Kurd conspired with associates Arkan Ali and Hawkar Hassan to set fire to the Zabka supermarket in Leicester’s Hinckley Road, using 60 litres of petrol mixed with other flammable liquids they had sprayed all over the basement.
They hoped to claim up to £300,000 on an over-inflated insurance policy. In the explosion and fire which followed, five people died, four of whom were in the flat above the supermarket on the evening of Sunday 25th February when the building exploded.
All three men were found guilty by a jury at Leicester Crown Court of murdering Mary Ragoobeer, her sons Shane and Sean, and Shane’s girlfriend Leah Reek in the blaze and explosion.
Kurd, 34, of Braunstone, Ali, 38, of Oldham and Hassan, 33, of Coventry, were also found guilty of murdering fellow plotter and Ali’s girlfriend Viktorija Ijevleva, 22, who had been part of the conspiracy to destroy the building and who was in the supermarket at the time.
All three were also convicted of conspiring together, and with Ijevleva, to commit insurance fraud, in Hassan’s case by a majority verdict
They will be sentenced on 18th January 2019.
The criminal investigation into the explosion was led by Detective Chief Inspector Michelle Keen.
She said: “The people responsible for carrying out this financially-motivated atrocity will now feel the full weight of justice.
“Their crimes have caused unspeakable grief to the families of those killed and injured, and brought utter chaos and devastation to the many residents and businesses of Leicester’s Hinckley Road.
“I praise the community which responded so bravely, sensitively, and calmly to the horror of that night.
“I praise all the emergency services, hospital staff, paramedics, city council, and voluntary and other community groups who helped respond to the tragedy with such fortitude, conviction and professionalism.
“I praise my investigation team, whose determination to bring those responsible to justice was unstinting.
“And my heart goes out to the families and friends of all those who died and were injured in the blast and subsequent fire that night. I hope that they can take some small solace from the outcome of these judicial proceedings.”
The ten-month police investigation unearthed a detailed and deliberate plot to set fire to the failing supermarket.
A month before the explosion, Ijevleva and Ali had visited an insurance brokers in Oldham, Lancashire, but their attempts to persuade the broker to provide them with cover for the shop in Hinckley Road were unsuccessful.
A week later, this time joined by a friend of Ali's, Hawkar Hassan, the pair visited a different Oldham insurance company. They then visited the same broker five days later to finalise the insurance as they began to execute their plan.
Four days before the explosion, Ijevleva and Ali drove to Leicester in his white Audi. CCTV cameras showed the pair, with Kurd, in the rear yard, inspecting the rubbish.
Ali spots a CCTV camera in the yard, and a moment later its position is moved, away from the basement steps.
Next, all three were caught on camera entering a branch of B&Q where they bought smoke alarms. A short while later, someone bought four litres of white spirit from Wilkinson’s. Minutes later, the group made their way back to the supermarket.
Two days later, Ali, Hassan and Ijevleva set off from Coventry towards Leicester, stopping at a petrol station where Hassan filled up a container with 26 litres of unleaded petrol. The car they were driving was a diesel. This fuel container was later found in the rubble of the explosion.
Having arrived in Leicester, the petrol was transferred to the shop CCTV then shows a gloved hand move the angle of a camera at the rear of a neighbouring property.
DCI Keen said: “I believe this was done in order that the offenders could take the petrol straight down the basement steps without being seen.”
On the day of the explosion, the white Audi drove back to Leicester from Coventry, and shortly after lunch Ijevleva walked to the supermarket. She was in mobile phone contact with Ali, Hassan and Kurd who spent the afternoon in the city centre - putting the finishing touches to their plans.
DCI Keen said: “At some point in these discussions, it appears there was a disagreement between the three men. We suspect this was sparked by the suggestion that Viktorija should die in the explosion, partly because she knew too much, and partly to increase the share of the profits for the three men.”
With an hour to go before the explosion, Kurd re-joined Ijevleva in the shop, and Ali and Hassan were seen in the area of Hinckley Road, waiting for the cover of darkness.
Cameras then spotted Ali walking towards the back of the supermarket at around 6.30pm. Cameras picked him up again leaving the rear of the shop just before 7pm. By that stage, someone had lowered the shutters at the entrance to the premises.
Minutes later, with Ijevleva now alone in the shop, and the Ragoobeers and Leah enjoying a Sunday night in the flat above, the petrol was ignited causing the explosion and fire.