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Last Updated: Friday, 1 October, 2004, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
'In the wrong place at the wrong time'
by Chris Summers
BBC News Online

Two men were jailed for life on Friday for the murder of an innocent woman shot dead as she sat in her car. BBC News Online investigates the story behind the headlines.

When Pauline Peart was gunned down in a street in London she became the first woman murder victim to be investigated by Operation Trident, Scotland Yard's special taskforce which tackles gun crime within the black community.

Pauline Peart
She was fun, happy-go-lucky, very much loved and liked by everyone that met her
Donna Swaby
Pauline's half-sister

Pauline had nothing in common with her killers, Maurice Miller and Nebra Bennett.

They were from a very different world and were immersed in the drug and gun culture.

Miller's father, Winston, abandoned the family in Jamaica when Miller was a baby and moved to New York. He became a drug dealer and was shot dead in Brooklyn in 2001.

Miller and Bennett grew up in a tough district of Jamaica's capital, Kingston. They came to London but ended up unemployed and hanging around looking for trouble.

Pauline, in contrast, had a good career working as a customer account manager for Beneficial Finance.

The 25-year-old had her own home in suburban Waltham Abbey and her pride and joy was her silver-green Audi TT sports car.

Her half-sister Donna Swaby described her as "fun, happy-go-lucky, very much loved and liked by everyone that met her."

Her bad luck was a chance meeting with Yemmi Johnson, who chatted her up on the forecourt of a north London petrol station.

They exchanged phone numbers and swapped text messages.

Swapped texts

They would arrange places to rendezvous in north London and would sit in her car and chat about life.

Orlando Pownall, QC, prosecuting, pointed out: "They both had boyfriends and girlfriends and did not have a physical relationship together."

Maurice Miller (left) and Nebra Bennett
Miller (left) and Bennett will be deported after serving their jail term
On 10 March last year Pauline met up with Mr Johnson in Hampden Road, around the corner from Tottenham Hotspur's football stadium.

As they sat talking in her distinctive Audi convertible three men approached.

Mr Johnson told the Old Bailey trial one of the men poked a gun through the window and fired once.

Fatally wounded

The bullet hit Pauline in the back, ripping through her heart and left lung. She collapsed almost immediately and would have been dead within a few minutes, the Old Bailey jury heard.

The gun's slide fell off after Pauline was shot and a second bullet was jammed in the chamber, preventing the killers silencing Mr Johnson, the only witness to the crime.

The gun
The gun was a replica which had been converted to become a lethal weapon
He dashed to a nearby house and rang 999 but by the time paramedics arrived Pauline was beyond saving.

The gunman may have been aiming at Mr Johnson - Miller claimed Bennett was the shooter and was trying to settle a score because Mr Johnson had shown him "disrespect".

Miller told the court: "He (Bennett) said he was sorry the lady died because it was the man he wanted to get."

Out-of-date visas

Police later recovered the murder weapon from Miller's girlfriend's home in Enfield, north London.

It was a BBM blank-firing handgun which had been converted to enable it to fire live rounds.

Miller claimed he had borrowed it from a man known by the street name Mousey and he told the trial he believed it had been used in a previous killing - that of 20-year-old Jade Alleyne in Wood Green in April 2002.

An Audi TT convertible similar to Pauline Peart's
One theory was that the killers planned to steal Pauline's Audi TT car

A detective, who helped bring the case to court, said: "These guns can be bought perfectly legally but they can be converted using tools you can buy at a DIY shop. We have been trying for years to get them banned."

A Scotland Yard spokesman said that 70% of firearms offences investigated by Operation Trident involved replica guns which had been converted to fire live ammunition.

But a Home Office spokeswoman said guns which were readily convertible were treated as real guns and needed licences.

Anybody found in unlawful possession of one faced up to five years in jail, she said.

Miller went on trial in January this year but the trial ended with the jury deadlocked.

At his second trial Miller, who was given a translator because he spoke in a heavy Jamaican patois, was joined in the dock by Bennett.

'Posturing with guns'

Sentencing them to serve no less than 18 years in jail, Mr Justice Astill said: "You both believe that carrying a loaded gun and the posturing which goes with it increases the esteem with which others hold you. But in our society it has the opposite effect.

The carrying of a gun does not demonstrate power. It demonstrates that you are both despicable cowards
Mr Justice Astill
"The carrying of a gun does not demonstrate power. It demonstrates that you are both despicable cowards who depend on the use of extreme violence to get whatever you want whether it be a possession or whether it be revenge."

The detective in the case maintained throughout that Miller was the gunman but he said Bennett, by his actions before and after the shooting, proved he was guilty of the "joint enterprise" of murder.

The jury agreed and the two men are now beginning life sentences, at the end of which they will be deported back to Jamaica.

Both men came to Britain on tourist visas but overstayed and were facing deportation at the time of the shooting. They both leave behind young children.

Memorial for car shooting victim
28 May 03 |  England
Man dies in London shooting
20 Apr 02 |  England

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