A TYRE shop boss accused of ordering a hit on a rival businessman has told a jury he had nothing to do with events which led to the death of a 19-year-old law student.
Feroz Suleman, the owner of RI Tyres, is accused of murdering Aya Hachem in Blackburn on May 17 last year. He is also charged with the attempted murder of Pachah Khan – the owner of neighbouring business Quickshine Tyres.
Aya, a Salford University student, was killed almost instantly when she was struck by a bullet fired from the back of a Toyota Avensis as she walked along King Street on her way to collect groceries for her family.
Despite the best efforts of doctors and nurses, she was pronounced dead in hospital a short while later.
It is the prosecution’s case that the bullet, fired by gunman Zamir Raja, was meant for Mr Khan – with whom Suleman had been feuding for several months over business matters.
During the ongoing trial at Preston Crown Court, jurors have been told by prosecutor Nicholas Johnson QC that the hit was arranged by Suleman, who then made sure he had ‘ringside seats’ to the incident.
However eight weeks in and during his first day giving evidence (Thursday), Suleman has said he had nothing to do with the fatal shooting.
One of the first questions put to the 40-year-old by his defence barrister Michael Hayton QC was: “In April and May of last year, were you party to any arrangement to kill anybody in Blackburn?”
Feroz Suleman responded: “Not at all.”
He was then asked: “Did you participate in any way in any plan which was intended to kill, or hurt anybody, by way of firearm?” – “No” was his response.
Throughout the course of Thursday, Suleman answered several questions put to him by his defence barrister about the days before, of and after the shooting.
He denies any involvement or prior knowledge of the incident.
When asked about what he was doing on the day before the event (May 16) when a ‘dry-run’ for the shooting was taking place, Suleman said he had been eating a burger with a female friend.
It is the prosecution’s case the Suleman had in fact been with the gunman and two other defendants scoping out the best route to be taken the next day.
As heard during the opening, Suleman then travelled in the back of the VW Passat used during the dry-run to the RI Tyres branch on Copy Nook to collect a pair of surgical gloves.
Whilst he did not get out of the car, he did wind down his window and stick his head out – presenting a ‘clear image of his face’ to a nearby CCTV camera, the prosecution say.
Suleman denies it was him in the back of the car.
Questioned on his actions on the day of the shooting, Suleman claims to have thought a car was backfiring when he heard the two gunshots shortly after 3pm.
He also denies buying the Toyota Avensis, or seeing it pass his business on any of the three occasions it went by just moments before the shooting – despite being stood on the forecourt.
Speaking about when he was arrested on May 18, Suleman said that his mind went into ‘complete shock’ and that he ‘totally shut down’.
The last two questions put to Suleman were ‘are you guilty of the death of Aya Hachem?’ and ‘are you guilty of the attempted murder of Pachah Khan?’ – he responded no to both.
Suleman will now be cross-examined by all seven of his co-defendant’s barristers before he faces prosecutor Mr Johnson QC.
The process is expected to last several days.
So far the jury have heard evidence from five of Suleman’s co-defendants: Zamir Raja, the gunman who has admitted the manslaughter of Aya Hachem but denies murder; Ayaz Hussain, who the prosecution allege is the link between Suleman and Raja; Abubakr Satia, who is accused of sourcing the car used for the hit; Uthman Satia, who was allegedly involved in ferrying the gunman around and Kashif Manzoor who helped to start the Toyota Avensis.
When Suleman’s case is closed there are two more defendants – Anthony Ennis and Judy Chapman – to be dealt with.
All eight deny the murder of Aya Hachem and the attempted murder of Pachah Khan.