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The Murder of PC Sharon Beshenivsky

Delayed Justice

Listening to the news this week brought up the name of a murdered police officer I recalled from what seemed like many years ago, and prompted me to refresh my memory about the case.

The Crime
PC Sharon Beshenivsky was still a probationary constable with West Yorkshire Police when she was shot dead by armed robbers on the afternoon of November 18 2005. A former childminder, she had completed her police training only in February of that year.

PC Beshenivsky, along with her more experienced colleague, PC Teresa Milburn, had been just about to finish their shift when they responded to an attack alarm activated at a travel agency on Morley Street in Bradford.

There, they encountered a gang of three men—armed with a knife, a 9mm handgun, and a Mac 10 submachine gun. One of the robbers immediately shot both officers in the chest. PC Beshenivsky’s wound was fatal. PC Milburn, although severely injured, managed to press the panic button on her radio and remained conscious to give responding officers a description of the gunman.

PC Beshenivsky, who was 38 at the time of her death, left behind a husband, two stepchildren and three children. That day was her youngest daughter’s fourth birthday.

The Gang
The robbers had arrived at the scene in a convoy of three cars, and fled the same way. Unfortunately for them, Bradford City Centre had recently installed automatic number plate recognition technology, which played a major part in identifying the vehicles involved, and their owners.

A week later, police named Somali brothers, Yusaf Jama – only nineteen at the time – and Mustaf Jama as prime suspects, along with Muzzaker Imtiaz Shah. Shah and Yusaf Jama were arrested within days. Mustaf Jama managed to flee the country on fake documents. It was rumoured at the time that he might have made his escape disguised in a burka. (Something he later denied.)

The gang was based in London, but had been lured up to Yorkshire by possibly false information that the travel agency had as much as £100,000 in cash on the premises. In the event, it was reported that they actually got away with little over £5000.

The Trial
In December 2006, Shah – identified by PC Milburn as the actual shooter – was convicted of murder, robbery, and firearms offences. He was sentenced to Life imprisonment with a minimum term of 35 years. Despite not actually pulling the trigger, Yusaf Jama was also convicted of the same offences, and received the same sentence.

Both men later had additional time added to their sentences for other crimes which came to light – firearms offences and conspiracy to rape. They were also involved in an incident in prison in which another prisoner was stabbed.

Cleared of murder, but found guilty of a range of crimes, including manslaughter, robbery, and firearms offences, were three men who served as getaway drivers and lookouts. For these crimes, they received sentences anywhere from eight years to Life.

The Fugitives
Mustaf Jama fled to Somalia, where his father was allegedly a local warlord. This might be considered ironic, as Mustaf Jama had avoided being deported to the African country only six months earlier, after finishing a sentence for driving offences, robbery, and affray.

Somalia had no diplomatic ties to the UK. Nevertheless, when Mustaf Jama was given ‘most wanted’ status, a deal was struck between the Somali government and the British Foreign Office and Home Office. Mustaf Jama’s vehicle was ambushed in the desert by local militiamen. He was snatched, flown to Dubai via private plane, and then on to the UK. The day after his arrival, he was taken into custody at a police station in Leeds, and charged with the murder of PC Beshenivsky.

It took a further two years to bring him to trial, in July 2009. He was found guilty and sentenced, like his co-conspirators, to Life with a minimum term of 35 years.

By this time, the police were also looking for another man, Piran Ditta Khan. Khan was thought to be the mastermind behind the robbery, but had fled to Pakistan. A lengthy battle followed to force his return to the UK to stand trial.

In January 2020, Khan was arrested by the Pakistan police. And last week he was flown back to the UK and formally charged with the murder of PC Beshenivsky. Other charges included robbery and firearms offences.

The Aftermath
When she died in 2005, PC Sharon Beshenivsky became the seventh female UK police officer killed in service, and the first since PC Yvonne Fletcher in 1984. PC Fletcher died after a shot was fired from the Libyan Embassy while she was stationed outside monitoring a demonstration against then-Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi.

Efforts were made by a right-wing organisation to classify the murder of PC Beshenivsky as a racially motivated crime. Opponents pointed out that there was no obvious racial motive, and that the robbers were as likely to have fired upon any responding police officers, regardless of their ethnicity.

In January 2020, PC Sharon Beshenivsky’s daughter, Lydia – by then eighteen, told an interview with the Daily Mail that she intended to join the mounted section of the police service. I have not been able to verify whether in fact she has done this or not.

(For once, Mrs Google has failed me!)

This week’s Word of the Week is quincunx, meaning an arrangement of five objects, with four of them forming the corners of a square or rectangle, and the fifth in the centre, as in the spots on a dice or a playing card.

April 22 2023: Zoë Sharp will be appearing with Caro Ramsay and Sarah Ward at Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth as part of the Gŵyl Crime Cymru Festival. Their panel will be Event 6: Trade Secrets, 10:15 – 11:15 on Saturday, April 22 2023. “Writing a long series has its own difficulties, as does writing under two names in two different directions. How do you keep track? What are the things you know from your other lives that you bring to your writing? Learn a few trade secrets from three of the best. Panellists: Caro Ramsay, Zoë Sharp. Chair: Sarah Ward. Close Up Reader: Nigel Williams.”

Hot Off the Press
May 02 2023: A quick plug for John Lawton’s latest Joe Wilderness espionage thriller, Moscow Exile. Lawton will be launching the fourth novel with his thief-turned-reluctant spy in the lead role, at The Mysterious Bookshop, 58 Warren Street, New York, NY 10007. Lawton will be in conversation with fellow author Mark Ellis, who is celebrating the upcoming publication of his latest DCI Frank Merlin wartime thriller, Dead In The Water.

Moscow Exile
‘Charlotte is a British expatriate who has recently settled in Washington, D.C. with her second husband, but enviable dinner parties aren’t the only thing she is planning. Meanwhile, Charlie Leigh-Hunt has been posted to Washington as a replacement for Guy Burgess, last seen disappearing around the corner and into the Soviet Union. Charlie is surprised to cross paths with Charlotte, an old flame of his, who, thanks to her gossipy parties, has a packed pocketbook full of secrets she is eager to share.

‘Two decades later, in 1969, Joe Wilderness is stuck on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, held captive by the KGB, a chip in a game way above his pay grade – but his old friends Frank and Eddie are going to try to spring him out of the toughest prison in the world. All roads lead back to Berlin, and to the famous Bridge of Spies…

‘Featuring crackling dialogue and brilliantly plotted Cold War intrigue, Moscow Exile is a gripping thriller populated by larger-than-life personalities in a Cold War plot that feels strangely in tune with our present.’

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