Finsbury Park man set wife on fire following ‘argument over his bigamous marriage’, murder trial hears
- Credit: Archant
A minicab driver killed his wife by dousing her in white spirit and setting her ablaze so that she was “engulfed in flames” at their Finsbury Park home, the Old Bailey heard today.
Abdi Quule, then 42, is standing trial for the murder of his wife Kaltoun Saleh.
The prosecution alleges that he set fire to her in the kitchen of their Andover Estate home in the early hours of July 5, seven weeks before she died of her injuries.
It is claimed he had at some point been in a bigamous marriage to another woman in his native Somalia – and that on the night Ms Saleh confronted him about it neighbours heard “banging” and “screaming” before she was found to be on fire.
In his opening, prosecutor Jacob Hallam QC said: “When she was examined she was found to have terrible burns.
“Many of these burns were very deep and they covered most of her body. 85 to 90 per cent human of body burned.
“Dr Michael Frost [a specialist] saw her burns when she arrived at hospital and concluded that the burns to her torso were consistent with accelerant being poured onto her torso and set alight.”
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The court heard medics also smelt accelerant in the house and on Ms Saleh.
By contrast, Quule was treated for “superficial” burn wounds to his right side before being arrested a month after the fire, and charged with murder via a video link at the Old Bailey on August 31.
“In Islamic law it is possible for a man to have more than one wife,” said Mr Hallam. “And it appears that at some point before July 2018, the defendant had married another woman.
“Kaltoun Saleh was not happy about this situation and the reason that I say that is because she spoke to someone who was a close family friend of both of them.
“Kaltoun spoke to [her friend] about her unhappiness and her concerns about this. She said Mr Quule had told her that he had divorced the second wife and essentially was having nothing else to do with her.
“But she was not sure if he was still having any contact with this other woman. It was on the night immediately before Kaltoun came to be on fire in her kitchen.”
The court heard how Ms Saleh’s friend told her not to raise her worries about the other woman with Quule, but that she seemed intent on doing so.
The women’s conversation started at about 11pm on July 4 and lasted an hour. According to Mr Hallam, phone records then show she made a “number of calls” to her husband, who was out working as an Uber driver, just after midnight, and that Quule picked up the phone at about 12.12pm on July 5 and spoke with her for a minute and 24 seconds.
The prosecution’s case is that Quule returned home 10 minutes after the call finished, arriving at their two-storey home in Noll House, Corker Way, at 12.24pm.
Mr Hallam said some two hours later, at about 2.45am, neighbours “became aware of noise” coming from their flat.
Relaying a neighbour’s statement to the police, Mr Hallam said: “She heard noise coming from the direction of [their flat] – a loud female voice and a very loud male voice – and she said that the argument lasted for about seven minutes and was accompanied by five consecutive booming sounds. [...]
“After she heard screaming and the female voice shouting and shouting for water.”
The court then heard how another neighbour also heard “banging” and “shouting” at the same time.
Mr Hallam said the first witness went to the door of [Ms Saleh and Quule’s home], where she encountered the alleged murderer.
He told the court: “She said he opened the door and was wearing a pair of trousers and he asked her for help with his children, as he had to take care of his wife, who he said was injured upstairs in a bath.” The neighbour then took the four children, one of whom was said to have helped put Ms Saleh in the bath, out of the flat.
The second witness had arrived at the address “slightly earlier” as she allegedly saw Quule “pulling one pair of trousers off”. Jurors were told a pair of Quule’s charred trousers were found at the scene, analysed and found to have traces of white spirit on them.
During his police interview on August 1, Quule told officers he was in the living room waiting for his wife to cook him porridge when she started “shouting she was on fire” – he then claimed to have fetched water to try and douse the flames, at which point he partially caught fire himself.
A bottle of “clear liquid”, later confirmed to be Homebase white spirit, was found “half empty” by the cooker, it is said.
Quule also told police he “had been arrested for something that would not have crossed his mind”, Mr Hallam said, and that he “tried to save his wife who he loved very much” and risked his own life to do so.
He told police the pair had been married for 18 years and had “no problems between them”.
He claimed Ms Saleh had been decorating on the night she died, and that she sometimes used white spirit for cleaning purposes. He is expected to argue that her death was an accident.
“He was asked about what people said – about the sound of shouting and banging and what appeared to be an argument,” said Mr Hallam.
“And he said that didn’t happen. There was no argument.”
The prosecution, by contrast, says the couple were “arguing with volume and some intensity in the minutes before she started to burn”.
“He says he was in the living room watching television when he heard Kaltoun screaming,” said Mr Hallam. “The prosecution suggests that’s him trying to distance himself from what happened. There was an argument in the kitchen, the pouring of the white spirit on to Kaltoun, and it may be that when she started to burn in the way she did Mr Quule realised the magnitude of his actions and sought help.
“He intended to cause her at least really serious harm and she died of the injuries she received that morning. And if that’s right, he is guilty of murder.”
The trial continues.