Bungling hitmen jailed for 40 years after killing teenager by mistake
TWO bungling hitmen who stabbed an innocent schoolboy to death by mistake have been told they are likely to die behind bars after a judge handed them a minimum term of 40 years.
Ben Hope, 39, and Jason Richards, 38, both from Cardiff, were each paid £1,000 in "blood money" to murder a middle-aged family man who owed money to a shady businessman.
But the "hit" went tragically wrong when the balaclava-clad killers, who were high on drugs, went to the wrong address in Roath, Cardiff, in April 2010 and murdered teenager Aamir Siddiqi by mistake.
The 17-year-old's frantic parents, Iqbal and Parveen, fought to save their son but were knifed in turn by the killers, who let out chilling howls.
Hope and Richards - who already had a deplorable criminal record ahead of the stabbing - both protested their innocence during their four-and-a-half month trial at Swansea Crown Court.
But a jury unanimously found them guilty of Aamir's murder as well as the attempted murder of his parents.
Today, in sentencing, Mr Justice Royce said he had no choice but to "significantly increase" the minimum term of 30 years the prosecution had asked for.
He said: "Aamir Siddiqi was the youngest child and only son of Sheikh Iqbal and Parveen Ahmed.
"He was a bright, gentle and courteous boy who was much loved by his family.
"He had secured a place to study law at Cardiff and his future was brimming with promise.
"He was awaiting the arrival of his Koran teacher when he rushed past his parents to open the door.
"You two (Hope and Richards) came in, wearing balaclavas and making a terrible wailing sound.
"Your attack on him was brutal, savage, callous and cruel.
"You hacked him to death in front of his parents, who fought in vain to save Aamir.
"It was simply good fortune that they were not killed. It was your intention that they should die too.
"The aggravating features of this case mean the starting point should significantly increase.
"The starting point is 40 years.
"If you die in jail, few will shed a tear and many will say it will be more than deserved."
During their trial, the court heard that Hope and Richards had been paid by a businessman, angry over a collapsed property deal, to kill a father-of-four who lived in a neighbouring street.
But they went instead to a similar looking red brick, end-of-row house just around the corner in Ninian Road in the leafy suburb of Roath.
Aamir had run down the stairs to answer the door expecting to see his imam, who was due to give him a Koran lesson. Instead, he opened the front door in Ninian Road, Roath, to two masked killers high on heroin.
Hope and Richards wielded daggers over their heads and howled as they set upon the helpless A-level student.
The teenager desperately tried to run back into the house, but they chased him and repeatedly lashed out.
After the murder, a huge manhunt began, and the stolen Volvo car used in the crime was later found abandoned. Traces of Aamir's blood were found in the car's footwell, as were Hope's fingerprints and Richards' DNA.
Despite trying to blame one another for the killing, last week a jury reached a unanimous guilty verdict over the murder of Aamir as well as the attempted murder of his parents.
Mr Justice Royce said he was humbled by the strength and dignity of members of Aamir's family, who were in a packed public gallery for today's sentencing.
He said Hope and Richards were paid a "pittance" for the killing and added that their desire to get their "blood money" reflected a warped philosophy on life.
"Your concern was not with the family of Aamir but to escape and to get your money," he added.
Mr Justice Royce added that the pair, whose paths first crossed in prison, had shown no remorse for their crimes, and singled out Richards' "strutting arrogance" when he gave evidence.
He said there were no mitigating factors and listed six aggravating features which proved why the case's seriousness was "exceptionally high" - the murder of a child, the murder of a child in front of his parents, the two attempted murders, the fact a great deal of premeditation had gone into the killing, and both defendants' previous convictions.
Mr Justice Royce read brief excerpts of a victim impact statement from Aamir's parents.
It said how every inch of his mother's body ached with grief and how she and her husband are now afraid to answer to the front door because of what happened.
The statement also detailed the sadness of the couple having to sell their once-cherished family home and move away from Cardiff due to the painful daily memories the city holds.
Mr Justice Royce also told how Aamir's parents had the terrible sight of their son being hacked to death by Hope and Richards "etched on to their memories".
Hope and Richards were each given a life sentence with a minimum 40-year term, and 15-year custodial terms - to run concurrently - for the attempted murder of Aamir's parents.
It means they will not be eligible for parole until they are in their late 70s.
Once the defendants had been taken down, Mr Justice Royce addressed Aamir's family.
He said everyone in the court - from barristers to canteen staff - had been taken aback by their quiet dignity.
"I hope you will be able to take some comfort in knowing that this part is at an end," he added.
The judge recommended that 11 police officers who worked on the murder investigation receive commendations as well as thanking the jury - who were in court for sentencing - for their service.
He said: "You have shown to be attentive and alert and battled through illness, injury as well as the ice and the snow.
"This has been a very long trial and a huge burden.
"It is a case that you will never, ever forget."
After sentencing, Umbareen Siddiqi, Aamir's sister, said: "On behalf of the family, we're delighted. We feel this sentence is appropriate.
"Our brother won't return to us but this will go some way to achieving peace for all of us.
"I would like to once again thank South Wales Police, the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service), friends and family and the wider Cardiff community and Victim Support."
South Wales Police Detective Superintendent Paul Hurley described the murder as one of the worst he had seen in his 27-year career, adding: "This is a substantial custodial sentence reflecting the horrific and brutal murder of young Aamir Siddiqi in his own home.
"South Wales Police would like to thank the communities of Cardiff for their continued support, all the prosecution witnesses who've played an important role in this investigation and importantly the family of Aamir Siddiqi who've shown the utmost dignity and respect throughout this process."