A man has been sentenced to life in jail after pleading guilty to the murder of 28-year-old Sabina Nessa in south-east London.
On 17 September 2021, Koci Selamaj, 36 (04.05.85) of Terminus Road, Eastbourne, travelled from Eastbourne to Cator Park in Kidbrooke where he lay in wait for an unsuspecting victim to come his way.
At around 20:30hrs, he saw Sabina enter the park and carried out a ferocious and sexually motivated attack before fleeing the scene.
A major investigation, involving officers from across the Met, led to Selamaj’s identification, arrest and conviction at the Old Bailey in February.
The judge said Selamaj had carried out an ‘absolutely appalling murder’ and said he will now serve at least 36 years in jail.
Detective Chief Inspector Neil John, who led the investigation, said: “Selamaj is a dangerous and violent offender who has never shown any remorse for his heinous actions.
“He carried out a premeditated and brutal murder and for that he will spend the vast majority of his life in prison.
“This was a shocking and complex case which involved officers and staff from across the Met. I know it will stay with all of those who worked on it for a long time to come.
“We have heard today from Sabina’s family and the devastating impact this has had on all of their lives. They have continued to astound us with their dignity and bravery and our thoughts remain with them.
“Those who knew Sabina were not the only ones affected by her murder. Her death struck at the heart of the fears of many women who should have the right to walk in our open spaces safely, no matter the time of day or the location.
“Right across the Met there is a relentless effort to tackle violence against women and girls and to bring those who perpetrate these crimes to justice.”
At about 17:20hrs on 18 September 2021, a man walking his dog in Cator Park discovered a body partially covered with long grass.
A murder investigation was launched, led by the Met’s Specialist Crime Command. The victim was identified as Sabina Nessa, a teacher originally from Bedfordshire who lived in at an address which overlooked the park.
Sabina had left her flat at 20:38hrs on the previous evening to meet a friend at a bar in Kidbrooke Village. It is likely that she had only gone through the park as she was running late and this was the quickest route to the venue.
Grainy footage from inside the park showed Sabina walking down the path when a hooded man passed her, looked in her direction and then ran quickly towards her.
Sabina was unaware of the man approaching until the last minute when as she started to turn, he violently struck her over the head. In total, he hit her 34 times in quick succession and with such force that parts of the weapon shattered and fell to the ground.
He then dragged her, unconscious, along a grass slope and out of sight of the camera.
After around ten minutes, the suspect reappeared on camera and began picking up pieces of the murder weapon from the floor. He also used tissues to clean the bench where part of the attack had taken place.
Although the park CCTV camera captured the incident itself, it did not provide any clear image of who the suspect was or where he left or entered the park. Over the following seven days, officers from across the Met spent hundreds of hours trawling through CCTV as they tried to find anything that could lead to his identification.
The breakthrough came when one officer, after painstakingly examining a grainy image, identified what appeared to be a fluorescent object glinting as it moved out of the park. This gave officers a direction of travel and they were then able to focus their retrieval of CCTV from this area, leading ultimately to an image of an unknown male being identified.
Tracking back, the same person was seen entering the park, and before that, driving a vehicle into Pegler Square and arriving in Kidbrooke at 19.41 hours.
The car proved to be the turning point of the investigation. The CCTV of the vehicle was blurry and there was no way to make out the registration number. However, the investigation team concluded it was a silver or beige Nissan Micra. This was confirmed with expert assistance from Nissan in London, who narrowed down the year and type of vehicle.
The nearest ANPR camera – the only one the driver would have had to definitely pass to get to Cator Park – was broken and so the team had to look at all vehicles fitting the description within a two-mile radius of the crime scene.
In total, more than 60 Nissan Micras had to be eliminated from enquiries. Further media appeals, including images of the car and the unidentified man, were also carried out, leading to over 170 separate pieces of information being received from the public.
When officers discovered a car registered in the name of Koci Selamaj, it immediately aroused suspicion. The car had been in the Eastbourne area for a full year prior to the murder until it had suddenly travelled to London for a four-hour period on the night of the murder and then back to Eastbourne in the hours afterwards.
Police were now close to their man. Further checks provided a phone number for Selamaj and analysis of the number showed an identical journey to that made by the car that evening.
Selamaj was arrested at home on 26 September and clothing matching that seen on CCTV was found in the property. Bloodstained trainers were also seized; the blood proved a DNA match to Sabina.
With Selamaj in custody, work continued to trace his movements in the days leading up to the attack.
Officers discovered that on 14 September – three days before the murder – Selamaj booked an expensive hotel room at The Grand Hotel in Eastbourne for Friday evening, the night of the murder. As he lived just ten minutes around the corner from the hotel, prosecutors argued that this showed his premeditation to have some kind of sexual encounter that night.
CCTV shows him returning to the hotel on Friday where he booked into his room and left the venue just before 17:00hrs, returning at midnight.
Phone records also proved that after driving around the Eastbourne and Brighton areas, Selamaj decided to head north towards London. From 19:41hrs, the phone had connected to a mast just north of Cator Park, where it remained until 21:01. This covers the period during which Sabina was killed and matched the movements on CCTV.
Less than an hour before the murder, Selamaj was caught on CCTV in a nearby Sainsbury’s where he bought chilli powder, a rolling pin and an energy drink. The images were clear and showed Selamaj using his own bank card to pay for the items.
Officers believe that Selamaj bought the rolling pin as his intended murder weapon; this was found in his car when it was seized. CCTV and debris at the scene led them to conclude that he instead used a red vehicle warning triangle to attack Sabina after realising this would prove more effective and was easier to conceal under his jacket.
Further analysis of phone records suggested Selamaj had travelled home via an unusual route through Tunbridge Wells. Cameras from the area showed that a journey down a country lane that should have taken two or three minutes actually took eight.
Officers from the POLSA team and the dog unit, as well as Kent Fire and Rescue Service, travelled to the lane, which was intersected by the River Teise. Divers entered the river and using a magnet, recovered the metal warning triangle which Selamaj later admitted he used to commit the murder.
In the days after the killing, Selamaj returned to his job at a garage in Lewes as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. During all police interviews, he chose to remain silent and has never given any kind of explanation as to why he murdered Sabina or why he travelled so far from his home to commit the crime.
When he was charged with murder, he replied “What will happen if I open up now and say everything?”. He was remanded into custody and pleaded guilty to murder on Friday, 25 February.
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