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Finsbury Park murder suspect says wife accidentally set herself on fire

PUBLISHED: 12:55 09 April 2019

A woman died in a flat fire at her home in Noll House, Corker Way. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

A woman died in a flat fire at her home in Noll House, Corker Way. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

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A Finsbury Park man on trial for his wife’s murder suggests she accidentally set herself ablaze after getting white spirit on her clothes and then lighting incense.

A woman died from burn injuries she sustained at her home in Noll House, Corker Way. Picture: Lucas CumiskeyA woman died from burn injuries she sustained at her home in Noll House, Corker Way. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

Abdi Quule is at the Old Bailey charged with murdering Kaltoun Saleh. He denies the Crown’s case that he poured white spirit over her and set her alight after she challenged his bigamous marriage in Somalia in the early hours of July 5. Ms Saleh died from her injuries seven weeks later.

Quule claimed it had been a normal evening with him watching television while his wife cooked him porridge. He says the “banging” and “screaming” reported by neighbours didn’t happen.

“That’s incorrect,” said Quule, who communicated in Somali through a translator. “Kaltoun never shouted. She never banged on anything – she’s not that sort of person. “When she’s upset she would not fight. She would not raise a fist. She’s like an angel.”

During cross-examination Jacob Hallam QC, for the Crown, asked Quule why he didn’t say Ms Saleh had been burning incense on the night she caught fire in his first police interview.

The Andover Estate in Finsbury Park has been identified by Islington Council as having chronic damp issues. PIcture: David Holt/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0The Andover Estate in Finsbury Park has been identified by Islington Council as having chronic damp issues. PIcture: David Holt/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Quule, who was also treated for “superficial” burns following the fire, said: “I was in a bad state. How can I mention that?”

Mr Hallam cited witness statements already heard in court, including the testimony of medics, who recalled smelling an “accelerant”, such as white spirit, when they entered their flat in Noll House, Corker Way. He asked Quule why he hadn’t smelled the white spirit.

“When the accident happened I was busy with my wife,” said the defendant. “And not thinking of what kind of smell I’m smelling.”

Quule feared the “cooker” had “exploded or something” when Kaltoun started shouting she was on fire, jurors heard.

Mr Hallam said: “You had white spirit on your jeans, didn’t you?”

The defendant said: “She used it to clean the floor. [...]

“I was in the kitchen, that’s how it went on my trousers and this is when I was trying to save my wife and that was the way it came into contact with my body. [...]

“I actually fell on more than one occasion in the kitchen and maybe she fell on me, I don’t know. She was very heavy. She was a very big lady.”

Mr Hallam said: “And she fell on you when she was on fire did she?”

“No,” said Quule. “I fell on her. [...] This is when the excess of the burning has gone down and she was lying on the floor, I fell down.

“That is my wife – I was kissing her. We were grieving because of what was happening. Protect your wife, this is the first instinct.”

The prosecutor suggested he had poured white spirit on his wife.

“We did not argue and I did not put spirit on her,” said Quule. “I did not have reason for me to chuck on that spirit, and I didn’t even know the effect that spirit would cause.”

He had earlier told the court he took a second wife while in Somalia with Ms Saleh and their two youngest children because the woman was “obsessed” with him.

Polygamous marriages are legal in Somalia, and Quule claimed Ms Saleh respected his religious right to marry again, but later politely asked him to divorce the new woman.

Quule’s second cousin Hibo Loor, who is helping care for the couple’s children, told the court she visited Ms Saleh at Broomfield Hospital, a specialist burns facility in Essex, four times.

“She voluntarily said to me in Somali: ‘Abdi is innocent or not responsible,’” Ms Loor told the court.

Mr Hallam asked why she had not mentioned this to police at the time. She said she had just been happy to see Ms Saleh on the mend and expected police to interview her of their own accord.

The court the heard three character references in favour of Quule, which said he’s “always ready to help, especially with the disabled and elderly”, had “always shown dedication towards his community”, and was in a “loving relationship” with Ms Saleh.

The trial continues.

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