A 31 year-old Maldivian man has been sentenced to life imprisonment in Hong Kong for the murder of 64 year-old British woman Janet Gilson, a retired major in the Salvation Army.
Ahmed Fareed was arrested by Hong Kong police in March 2011 after the discovery of Janet Gilson’s body under a sofa in a flat belonging to her niece, Julia Fareed – the estranged wife of the accused.
During sentencing at Hong Kong’s Court of First Instance on Thursday (June 20), the presiding judge described Fareed as being “highly dangerous”, stating that the crime was a most brutal killing of a woman aged 64 who had done no harm to the defendant, the South China Morning Post reported.
Sentencing Fareed to life imprisonment, the judge said no motive had been established for the killing of Gilson.
During the trial, the jury heard that the accused had been previously barred via a court order from entering his wife’s home over concerns about his temper.
Media reported that the jury were told during the six day trial how Fareed stood accused of tying up Gilson with rope, before hitting her hard on her forehead. He was then accused of suffocating the victim by stuffing a towel in her mouth while she was still alive. Gilson’s body was later discovered with four broken ribs after being recovered by authorities.
The judge also accused Fareed of committing a calculated murder after the jury were told how he had sent a text message from Gilson’s phone telling her niece she had travelled to Aberdeen in Scotland.
The jury were unanimous in declaring Fareed guilty of the crime.
Speaking to media after the trial, Julia Fareed praised her late aunt for the “ultimate sacrifice” she had made to allow both herself and her daughter to leave her ex-husband “without fear”.
“To those people that are in relationships with violent partners: I strongly urge you to get away, putting [yourselves at a] sufficient distance to end matters peacefully,” she was quoted as saying.
“I made the mistake of believing I could help change my ex-husband, giving him many chances,” she said. “I realise the error of that judgement now and hope that others can also learn from that.”
Speaking to local media today, Fareed’s family in the Maldives expressed “shock” at the life sentence passed by the Hong Kong court.
Ramzee Mohamed, Fareed’s brother, told Haveeru that his family had previously been informed by the Foreign Ministry that there was insufficient evidence to secure a conviction.
Ramzee claimed Fareed had also never displayed any behaviour in line with the violent nature of the attack, adding that his family did not understand why he attacked the victim instead of his ex-wife.
“He had problems with his wife. So it’s difficult to understand why he would murder her aunt. It’s difficult to believe. But when a court has passed the judgement, what can we do? We could appeal the judgment if it was the Maldives,” he was quoted as saying.
According to Haveeru, Fareed’s family also accused his ex-wife of influencing the trial, alleging she was “extremely influential” in Honk Kong, but without clarifying further.
A Foreign Ministry spokesperson confirmed today that no official notice had been received informing them of the outcome of the trial.
“We have not received a letter yet confirming the verdict, as it was announced over the weekend here,” the spokesperson said today. “However, I think we will get the verdict soon.”
The Foreign Ministry said that in cases where Maldives nationals were imprisoned of facing trial abroad, it was required to provide assistance such as establishing communications with their family.
“From the start of this case, we have been in contact [with Fareed] through our Chinese Embassy and honorary consulate in Hong Kong to provide services like translation and to keep him in touch with his family,” said the spokesperson.
The Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that the Maldives itself had no agreements with Chinese authorities regarding the transfer of prisoners in custody, adding that Fareed would be expected to serve his sentence in Hong Kong “for the time being”.
Fareed was arrested in March 2011 on Hong Kong pier after Janet Gilson’s body had been found during a second search of her niece’s flat. Gilson went missing on March 15, 10 days after arriving in Hong Kong. The body was reported to have severe head injuries when discovered.
Local media in the UK reported that Gilson was a long-serving Major in the British branch of the Salvation Army, an international Christian institution with a quasi-military structure known for its charitable work and rehabilitation of alcoholics and drug addicts, and had worked for 40 years as a Christian missionary.
“She had stopped the missionary work but she was still active and in a very high position [in the Salvation Army],” Gilson’s neighbour in her home of Leigh-on-Sea told local media at the time.