Page last updated at 14:46 GMT, Monday, 11 August 2008 15:46 UK

Machine-gun massacre in suburbia

By Chris Summers
BBC News

Two men have been convicted of murdering three men who were shot in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire. The trial heard the motive lay in the double-crossing world of drug dealers.

The crime scene
The murders shocked people in the quiet commuter town
By any reckoning the murder of Keith Cowell, his son Matthew and their friend Tony Dulieu, was a massive over-reaction.

Detective Chief Inspector Michael Hanlon said: "The brutality of what took place was off the scale in terms of anything I have ever dealt with before."

But Miran Thakrar, known to friends and fellow drug dealers as Mike or Mikey, was trying to build a reputation in the underworld and he had decided to send out a message that he was not someone who could be cheated.

The trial at St Albans Crown Court heard Thakrar had ordered a consignment of high quality cocaine from the Cowells, who obtained their own supply from Ian Jennings.

But Mr Jennings supplied low grade cocaine and when Thakrar and his brother Kevan realised, they threatened to kill him and the Cowells.

Miran Thakrar, 24, later rang Mr Jennings, pretended to have calmed down and offered to make another deal for more cocaine.

Commuter town

They set up a meeting at the Cowells' home in the quiet commuter town of Bishop's Stortford in Hertfordshire.

Also present was Mr Jennings's friend, Tony Dulieu, who was only there to give him a lift.

Miran (left) and Kevan Thakrar
Gunman Miran Thakrar (left) and his brother Kevan face life in jail

The Thakrar brothers, from Stevenage, arrived while Mr Jennings was in the kitchen fixing himself a drink.

He saw them produce an Ingram Mac-10 sub-machine gun and immediately fled into the back garden, escaping the unfolding massacre.

Mr Cowell, 52, and his 17-year-old son were gunned down in the lounge, along with Mr Dulieu, and their pet dog Gorgeous.

Upstairs were Mr Jennings's mother, Christine, and Matthew Cowell's girlfriend, Claire Evans, who was with her three-year-old daughter, Courtney.

The Thakrars discovered them and, realising they were out of bullets, began stabbing Mrs Jennings, 54, and 23-year-old Miss Evans.

Miss Evans, who suffered wounds to her back, shoulder, neck and cheek, recalled: "Mike took the knife. It had a 6in blade. Mike said, 'Sorry', and then he attacked me. He came forward and started stabbing me."

Miraculously the two women survived and when the killers fled they rang 999 as Mr Jennings returned from his hiding place in the garden.

Atul Thakrar and Kevan at Heathrow
Atul Thakrar (left) tried to help his son Kevan escape to Cyprus

Amazingly none of the neighbours heard the shootings but some heard squealing tyres as they escaped.

Thakrar immediately picked up his girlfriend, Amanda Dansie, and travelled with her to Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus, which has no formal extradition treaty with Britain.

His 21-year-old brother was arrested a few days later as he flew out to join him.

But northern Cyprus is no longer a sanctuary for criminals.

The authorities, keen to improve relations with European Union countries in the hope of pushing through the reunification of the island, are bending over backwards to help the British police.

A Turkish Cypriot diplomat based in London, Serap Destegur, said: "We don't want the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to have an image as a haven for criminals.

"Although there is no formal extradition treaty we will co-operate with the British authorities and did so in this case."

Thakrar soon found himself on a plane bound for Stansted and the local police even took statements from several witnesses who were not prepared to testify in the UK but said he had confessed to them while in Cyprus.

Amanda Dansie
Amanda Dansie said she thought the Cyprus trip was a "surprise holiday"

A Turkish Cypriot police officer, Mujdat Gunay, flew to Britain to confirm he had taken the statements, which were allowed under new rules on hearsay evidence.

One of the witnesses, Selcuk Moran, said Miran had confessed to him and said: "Mikey said he had taken drugs and that his head was not well, that he later took his brother to the house where people were going to meet them.

"While Mikey was speaking to these people he was swearing inside, saying to himself, planning things like I am going to kill him first and then I am going to kill him."

But the most condemning evidence came from the three survivors of the massacre, who all identified Miran Thakrar as the gunman.

Mr Jennings told the court: "The two men are sitting at the back. Those two there done all the shooting. The one on the right had the gun.

"I was there while the murders were going on. I supplied the drugs that caused the murder," he added.

The knife was six inches long and I was not pushing it into her body. I was just cutting her a little bit. I know it sounds evil, but I didn't have a choice
But the Thakrars were not willing to meekly surrender.

Dansie, 21, was convicted of assisting in the escape of Miran Thakrar. She had told the court she thought it was a "surprise holiday" and had no idea he had just committed a triple murder.

But she was convicted of assisting an offender and jailed for four years, as was the brothers' father, Atul, 47.

Kevan Thakrar denied he had been at the house on the day of the murders, in fact, he said, he had only ever been to the town as a child for a swimming gala.

Tony Dulieu, one of the murdered men
Tony Dulieu was only at the house to give Mr Jennings a lift

Miran Thakrar told the jury that although he had been at the house to do a drug deal he had found himself in the middle of a bloodbath.

Killed pet dog

He said two black men arrived at the house and shot dead the Cowells, Mr Dulieu and their dog.

Thakrar then claimed the men put a knife in his hand and told him to kill Miss Evans.

Asked by his barrister, Brendan Kelly QC, why he had stabbed her Thakrar said: "Because they were going to shoot me.

"The knife was 6in long and I was not pushing it into her body. I was just cutting her a little bit. I know it sounds evil, but I didn't have a choice. I didn't want to kill her."

The jury did not believe him and he has now been sentenced to life in jail, with a minimum term of 42 years.

Kevan Thakrar will be sentenced at a later date.


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