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Convictions for jewel thief in double murder case make legal history

Michael Weir attacked war veteran Leonard Harris and mother-of-three Rose Seferian during burglaries in 1998.

Rose Seferian (Metropolitan Police/PA)
Rose Seferian (Metropolitan Police/PA)

By Emily Pennink, PA Old Bailey Correspondent

A jewel thief has made legal history after being found guilty of murdering two pensioners 20 years ago in the first double jeopardy case of its kind.

Michael Weir, 52, beat up war veteran Leonard Harris, 78, and mother-of-three Rose Seferian, 83, during burglaries in 1998, the Old Bailey was told.

Retired cabbie Mr Harris’s widow Gertrude, who also suffered head injuries, died a few years later in a care home.

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Michael Weir (Metropolitan Police/PA)

During the attacks, Weir stole a signet ring and gold watch from Mr Harris and ripped diamond rings from Ms Seferian’s fingers, jurors heard.

Connections between the two deaths were not made at the time after police failed to match Weir’s palm print to one recovered from the Harris home in 1998.

Mrs Justice McGowan told jurors they had made legal history after they found Weir guilty of both murders following an Old Bailey trial.

Prosecutor Tom Little QC explained to the jury the unique history of the case, believed to be the first to involve a defendant being found guilty of the same murder twice.

It is also the first time a second murder charge has been added to a double jeopardy case, brought in light of new and compelling evidence following a change in the law in 2005.

Mr Little said Weir had been convicted in 1999 of the murder of Mr Harris as well as burglary and attacking Mrs Harris on the basis of DNA erroneously kept on the police database.

The original trial judge ruled it was admissible but that decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal in 2000 and Weir’s conviction was quashed.

The Crown Prosecution Service then missed a deadline to appeal to the House of Lords by a day, Mr Little said.

But the Lords later found that, in a similar case to Weir’s, the original decision to admit the DNA was correct.

During the trial, Mr Little said Weir, of Hackney, north-east London, had targeted the two “defenceless” pensioners, hit them repeatedly and left them for dead.

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Leonard and Gertrude Harris (Metropolitan Police/PA)

On January 28 1998, he broke into Mr Harris’s flat in East Finchley, north London, leaving him with serious head injuries.

The pensioner was found by an estate agent, calling for help from the communal landing, while his wife, who had dementia, lay badly hurt on the floor of the bedroom.

An 18-carat gold Zenith watch that Mr Harris had taken from a German soldier during the Second World War and his gold ring were missing.

Three days after the attack, police found a palm print on the bedroom door but missed the match to the defendant at the time, because a comparative print was not the best quality, the court heard.

Mr Little said the evidence of the print “definitely” put Weir in the victim’s flat, right by the scene of the attack on Mrs Harris.

DNA testing not available in 1998 later also linked Weir to the crime scene.

A blood scraping from the internal hallway revealed DNA belonging to Mrs Harris and the defendant, jurors were told.

A bloodstained glove found on a grass verge outside the flat was also found to have the defendant’s DNA on it.

Weeks after the first assault, Ms Seferian was attacked in the three-bedroom flat in Kensington, west London, that she shared with her son and two daughters.

On March 5 1998, Weir violently assaulted her in her bedroom when she was home alone and stole rings and cash.

The jewellery included a gold wedding ring with her husband’s initials and the date of their marriage engraved on it, a diamond solitaire gold ring, and a silver diamond ring.

Ms Seferian managed to raise the alarm and her son found her covered in blood and “almost unrecognisable” from her injuries.

A palm print was recovered from inside the flat on a window frame where Weir broke in but it was not matched to the defendant until 2017, the court heard.

By 2018, the new DNA evidence in the Harris murder had been obtained and the palm prints from both scenes had been matched to the defendant, jurors heard.

Weir literally thought he had got away with murder Detective Chief Inspector Shaun Fitzgerald

Giving evidence, labourer Weir admitted he had a long history of stealing to get money for drugs.

But he denied being at Mr Harris’s East Finchley flat or Ms Seferian’s Kensington home and provided no explanation for the forensic evidence.

On being arrested for the murders 19 years later, he said he felt “angry and upset”.

Detective Chief Inspector Shaun Fitzgerald from Scotland Yard said: “More than 20 years has passed since both Leonard and Rose suffered brutal assaults which contributed to their deaths – 20 years of pain and continued grief for both families.

“Weir literally thought he had got away with murder but he now faces a considerable custodial sentence where he will have significant time to reflect on his utterly callous actions towards two completely innocent victims.

“This has been a long and complex investigation but one which demonstrates that we will never give up on seeking justice for victims and their loved ones.”

PA

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