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Double jeopardy case ends in double murder conviction for jewel thief

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

Murder victim Leonard Harris and his wife Gertrude (Metropolitan Police/PA)
Murder victim Leonard Harris and his wife Gertrude (Metropolitan Police/PA)

By Emily Pennink, PA Old Bailey Correspondent

A jewel thief has been brought to justice more than 20 years after he murdered two pensioners in their own homes.

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.

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.

Weir was convicted of Mr Harris’s murder in 1999 but acquitted after appeal on a technicality, only to face trial again under double jeopardy rules in light of new forensic evidence.

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Rose Seferian was attacked in her Kensington home (Metropolitan Police/PA)

A jury at the Old Bailey found Weir, of Hackney, north-east London, guilty of both murders on Thursday.

During the trial, Tom Little QC said Weir had targeted the two “defenceless” pensioners, hit them repeatedly and left them “for dead”.

On January 28 1998, Weir 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 suffered from 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 both Mrs Harris and the defendant, jurors were told.

A blood-stained 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 set upon 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 Ms Seferian’s flat on a window frame where Weir broke in but it was not matched to the defendant until 2017, the court heard.

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Leonard and Gertrude Harris were both beaten up in East Finchley in 1998 (Metropolitan Police/PA)

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.

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

But he denied ever 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”.

The jury was not told of Weir’s previous conviction over Mr Harris’s death or the circumstances of his retrial.

Adjourning for sentence, Mrs Justice McGowan told jurors they had “made legal history”.

Following the guilty verdicts, Mr Little explained to the jury the history of the double jeopardy case.

He said Weir had been convicted 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 had 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 missed a deadline to appeal to the House of Lords by a day.

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

Weir was charged again over Mr Harris’s death due to a change in the double jeopardy law in 2005.

The Weir case is believed to be a legal first of a defendant convicted twice for the same offence, following an acquittal in the Court of Appeal.

It is also unique because he faced a second murder charge in addition to the original murder.

PA

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