Jewel thief jailed for murdering pensioners more than 20 years ago in legal first

16 December 2019, 12:46

Leonard Harris (far left) with wife Trudie, Michael Weir (centre) and Rose Seferian
Leonard Harris (far left) with wife Trudie, Michael Weir (centre) and Rose Seferian. Picture: Metropolitan Police

By Megan White

A jewel thief has been jailed for life for the murder of two pensioners in their own homes more than 20 years ago in a legal first.

Michael Weir brutally battered war veteran Leonard Harris, 78, and mother-of-three Rose Seferian, 83, during burglaries in 1998 - leaving them both for dead.

The two deaths were not linked at the time after police failed to match Weir's palm print to one recovered from the Harris home.

Weir was convicted of Mr Harris's murder, burglary and the attack on Mrs Harris in 1999 but his conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal on a technicality in 2000.

He was tried for Ms Seferian's killing after new forensic evidence came to light, and re-tried for Mr Harris' murder following a change to the double jeopardy law.

Leonard Harris and his wife Trudie were assaulted at their home in East Finchley
Leonard Harris and his wife Trudie were assaulted at their home in East Finchley. Picture: Metropolitan Police

A jury at the Old Bailey found him guilty of both murders on November 14 this year.

He has now been handed two life sentences, to be served concurrently, and must serve a minimum of 30 years in jail.

Following the verdict, Justice McGowan told jurors they had "made legal history".

The 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.

During the attacks, Weir, 53, stole a signet ring and gold watch from Mr Harris and ripped diamond rings from Ms Seferian's fingers.

Rose Seferian was killed at home in Kensington
Rose Seferian was killed at home in Kensington. Picture: Metropolitan Police

Retired cabbie Mr Harris's widow Gertrude also sustained head injuries but survived the assault, dying several years later in a care home.

Jailing Weir for life with a minimum term of 30 years on Monday, Mrs Justice McGowan said: "For the families, it's impossible to understand the extent of their grief but it is not difficult to understand their sense of loss and outrage.

"You killed their parents, they died terrified - killed for items of jewellery."

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.

Michael Weir was handed two life sentences with a minimum term of 30 years
Michael Weir was handed two life sentences with a minimum term of 30 years. Picture: Metropolitan Police

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 jury heard.

Prosecutor Tom Little QC said the evidence of the print "definitely" put Weir in the victim's flat, right by the scene of the attack on Mrs Harris.

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.

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.

Jill Harris, Mr and Mrs Harris daughter-in-law, said the family felt "let down by the criminal justice system" for the errors that saw Weir's first conviction quashed and the CPS's failure to make an appeal in time.

She said her husband Frank had suffered a stroke that doctors believed was linked to the stress of the retrial process.

Sona Seferian, Ms Seferian's daughter, said in a statement on behalf of her siblings: "The defendant has been allowed to get on with his life for 21 years, our wound is still sore and it has never healed.

"We all know death will strike at some point but not in such a horrific and senseless way."

She added the family were "grateful" to finally get justice for their mother.