Seven men have received life sentences for murdering 19-year-old Aya Hachem, a law student who was killed by a bullet meant for a rival business owner.
The botched assassination on 17 May last year, orchestrated by Feroz Suleman, 40, was part of a longstanding feud between the owners of two Blackburn tyre companies.
Suleman, who owned RI Tyres, and his friend Ayaz Hussain, 35, recruited gunman Zamir Raja, 33 to kill the owner of neighbouring Quickshine Tyres, Pachah Khan.
Instead, Hachem, an innocent bystander who had gone out to buy groceries for a family meal that evening, was struck by one of the shots fired from the passing car.
The bullet went through her shoulder and embedded itself in a telegraph pole and Hachem, a promising University of Salford student who had hoped to become a barrister, died within minutes.
Suleman, described by the judge as “the driving force behind the whole enterprise from beginning to end”, and Raja, who was to be paid £1,500 for the shooting, were sentenced to a minimum of 34 years in prison for the murder and 28 years for the attempted murder of Khan, to be served concurrently, meaning they will each serve at least 34 years.
Hussain, who introduced the men and was part of the planning of the crime, was sentenced to a minimum of 32 years, with the judge taking into account “at least some level of genuine remorse”.
Four other men from Blackburn were also found guilty and sentenced. Driver Anthony Ennis, 31, received a sentence of 33 years minimum for his role in the murder, which the judge assumed “had no other motive than gain”.
Accomplice Kashif Manzoor, 26, who took part in the planning and jump-started the Toyota Avensis used for the crime, was sentenced to a minimum of 27 years.
Abubakr Satia, 32, who bought the car for £300, and his brother Uthman Satia, 29, who helped transport the men and helped dispose of evidence, were both given a minimum of 28 years in prison.
Handing out the seven life sentences, Mr Justice Turner said: “None of you seven showed any remorse in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Together you tried to lie, scheme and plot your way out of trouble.”
He added: “It wasn’t long before you all started to sacrifice your co-defendants in an attempt to save your own skins. I need not descend into the unattractive detail but the spectacle of the desperate pageant of lies to which the jury was subjected, was unedifying in the extreme and clearly demonstrated a total lack of both remorse and realism.”
During the trial, the court heard how the killing was the result of a long feud between the two rival businesses on King Street in Blackburn, where resentment escalated into violence.
The feud had intensified in December 2019 when RI Tyres was subject to an arson attack, which Suleman suspected was the work of Quickshine. By May 2020, relations were so embittered that Suleman began masterminding a plan to murder Khan. He and Hussain enlisted Raja to carry out the shooting, while another man, Ennis, was recruited as the driver.
On 17 May shots were fired at Quickshine from an Avensis car – with the second bullet striking Hachem, who was walking past the car wash.
After the teenager fell to the ground, passersby tried to help but she died at the scene. CCTV showed Suleman and Manzoor watching the shooting from the adjacent car wash.
The seven co-conspirators denied murder but were convicted by a jury after a 10-week trial. Raja and Hussain admitted manslaughter mid-trial but this plea was rejected by the Crown Prosecution Service.
Uthman Satia’s girlfriend, Judy Chapman, 26, of Great Harwood, who was convicted of manslaughter for her role in driving the men to collect the car before the murder took place, will be sentenced at a date to be confirmed in October.
In a statement after the conviction, Hachem’s family said: “We thank God for the justice that has been served today.
“To our dear beautiful angel in heaven we know you are in a better and more beautiful place. God chose you from amongst many and blessed you with martyrdom.
“We are so proud of you and we miss you so much – our lives are difficult without you. This is God’s decree and praise be to God for this. You will remain in our hearts for ever.
“You loved life and despite all the struggles and barriers that we faced in this country, it did not stop you contributing to your community and charities including the Children’s Society and fundraising at Salford University where you were studying to become a barrister.
“God chose you as an angel in his heaven. Heaven is yours and may God give us the patience after your murder. We love you.”