Triple murder trial to begin after Chatham house fire
Mark Crook (left), his
daughter Melissa and her toddler son Noah (right) were killed
in a house fire in Chatham
A used car salesman came
face-to-face with his wife’s family for the first time since he was
accused of murdering her, their toddler son and her
Danai Muhammadi, 24, was
emotionless in the dock at Maidstone Crown Court this morning on
the first day of a triple murder trial.
He and his girlfriend, Emma
Smith, 21, sat on either side of Maidstone nightclub bouncer Farhad
Mahmud, 35, as a jury panel was selected.
All three deny murdering Muhammadi’s
estranged wife Melissa Crook, her father Mark and son Noah in a
house fire in Chatham in the early hours of September
They also deny attempting to
murder Melissa’s brother Bohdan and mum Amanda, who escaped the
blaze at the family home.
Several members of the Crook
family were in the public gallery as a High Court judge warned the
jury panel the case, which will begin in full tomorrow, was an
Muhammadi, of Britannia
Street, Coventry, and Mahmud, of Fernhill Road, Maidstone - both
from Iraq - had interpreters next to them in the secure
Muhammadi had shaved off a
goatee beard he had in earlier images and was dressed in jeans and
a grey button-up jumper with neat, short hair.
Mahmud, who sat a couple of
chairs from him, was balding with cropped hair and wore jeans, a
blue jumper and a bright green polo shirt.
Smith, the youngest of the three from Barley Lea,
Coventry, was dressed all in black with a bright pink hair tie and
a heavy fringe. She sat emotionless in the corner of the
The trio spoke only to
confirm their names.
The four-week trial will hear
from more than 70 prosecution witnesses, along with CCTV footage
and police and phone records.
The judge told those selected
as possible jurors they could not be part of the case if they knew
anyone who was affected in any way by the fire.
Mr Justice Sweeney told the
jury panel: "The events with which the trial is concerned include
principally a fire at an address called 210 Chatham Hill in
"Between now and tomorrow it
is vitally important - and I can’t emphasise those words too
strongly, vitally important - that members of the panel, as you now
are, from whom the jury will be selected, do not now go away and
start trying to conduct their own research into this
"Whether that be on the
internet, Facebook or Myspace or whatever, let alone try to contact
anyone who is involved."
Floral tributes outside
the blaze house in Chatham Hill
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