Two men get life sentences for murdering Sierra Leone woman due to fly home that day

Two men were sentenced at the Old Bailey on Friday, 19 July having previously been found guilty for their role in the death of 46-year-old Memunatu Warne.

She was visiting family in Woolwich when they set fire to the front door in a drug dealers’ row – on the day she was due to fly home.

William (Billy) Smith, 26, of no fixed address was sentenced to life imprisonment, to serve a minimum on 32 years for murder; 12 years each for two counts of GBH, to run concurrently; and five years for perverting the course of justice, also to run concurrently.

Elliott Robinson, 22, of no fixed address, was sentenced to life imprisonment, to serve a minimum of 31 years and 12 years each for two counts of GBH, to run concurrently.

The court had previously heard how Mrs Warne, who lived in Sierra Leone, was visiting her cousins at their home in Woolwich.

She was due to travel home on 6 September 2018, but never made that journey.

In the early hours of the morning on that same day, a fire erupted at her cousins’ home in Centurion Square on Berber Parade.

That fire was deliberately started with petrol, from outside, by the front door of their home. Mrs Warne was sleeping downstairs and alerted the family to the fire.

Both her cousins, a man in his 60s and a woman in her 50s, who were sleeping upstairs tried to reach her, but the smoke was too thick. They had to jump from an upstairs window and suffered serious injuries as a result.

The fire spread quickly from the front and upwards, and thick black smoke soon filled the house. Despite emergency services attending the scene they were unable to save Mrs Warne. Her body was found in the front bedroom on the first floor.

A post-mortem examination confirmed that she had died from inhalation of fumes from the fire.

Police were called to the fire at 1.30am and officers quickly realised they were dealing with a deliberate arson.

The fire was started by someone who had arrived and left Centurion Square, as the pillion passenger on a motorbike. Witnesses saw him get back onto the motorbike, and saw the bike speed off out of the square.

Homicide detectives began an immediate investigation. As a result of extensive enquires they discovered that the fire was probably organised by Smith. The motive for the attack appears to have been a drugs dispute with a family member of Mrs Warne’s cousins.

However all those who were caught up in the fire were completely innocent of any criminality.

Smith was arrested on 30 October 2018 in Dartford after running onto the railway track to try to avoid arrest. As he did so he threw away a false passport that he had been using.

The person who set the fire was believed to be Elliott Robinson.

Robinson was arrested on 2 November 2018 in a chicken shop on Kimmeridge Road in Mottingham.

Detective Chief Inspector John Massey, from Specialist Crime, said: “Smith and Robinson planned and carried out deliberate arson that took the life of a wholly innocent woman.

“The motive was probably a drugs dispute, but their wanton viciousness lead to Mrs Warne’s tragic death.

“I am glad that these two reckless criminals have been brought to account and they now begin lengthy prison sentences for their actions.”

Four men who had been charged with murder and arson – Kurtis Freeman age 21, Matthew John, age 20, Kye Kendall, age 19, and Martin McCardle, age 29 – were all acquitted during the trial.

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