Looking for work, five friends travelled down from Newcastle to Reading: Clive Scott, Mark Randle, Stephen Muir, Martin Hogg, and David Pickering. They found a house that had been converted to bedsits and each took a room. This was the summer of 1989. By the end of the year, David Pickering would be dead and Ishtiaq Ahmed, the man accused of his murder, would be waiting to go on trial.
But the case would prove to be anything but straightforward. Over the next decade or so there were complaints about Police behaviour, suppressed reports, strange decisions by the Home Secretary, and a witness who admitted lying on tape – and then later admitted lying about lying.
The steps leading up to the murder can be found summarised in great detail in the Court of Appeals’ verdict. You can find the original online here. But in brief, the circumstances are as follows.
Clive Scott, Mark Randle, Stephen Muir, Martin Hogg, and David Pickering all found a bedsit in a converted house in Reading, owned by the Ahmed brothers. They owned a number of houses and had converted them to bedsits. All found work bar Hogg, who ended up returning to Newcastle. By early September, he too had found a job and moved back to Reading. He started using Room 6, which was Stephen Muir’s room. Hogg slept there at night, unbeknownst to the landlords, whilst Muir was out working in a supermarket.
Meanwhile. Muir had started a relationship with another tenant in the house – Renuka Pun, also known as Renny. She lived in the basement flat, had known the Ahmed brothers for some time and had an arrangement whereby she worked as a housekeeper for them.
The first visit
All parties accept that Ishtiaq Ahmed paid four visits to the property during the night of 16th-17th October 1989. Around half past six in the evening, Ahmed visited Pickering and Muir to collect their weekly rent, which was £65 for the room they shared. Pickering only had £70 and Ahmed said he would return later with the £5 change.
During this visit, Ahmed saw Hogg in Muir’s room. When challenged, Hogg lied and said that while he lived elsewhere, his current accommodation had no cooking facilities so he was using Muir’s kitchen to make food. Ahmed said nothing of it and left to go to his girlfriend’s house.
The second visit
Ishtiaq and Mushtaq Ahmed returned around 8pm and went to Renuka’s flat, demanding to know why she hadn’t told them about Hogg. The prosecution says that Ishtiaq Ahmed told her she had to leave, and that they were taking away her TV as she was also behind with electricity payments.
He then told Muir to make sure that Hogg was out of the house by 10pm. Eleanor Coleman, another tenant, said that Ahmed said, “don’t tell me that I didn’t warn you” at this point.
The third visit
Sometime between midnight and 1am, Ahmed returned again. According to Hogg, Ahmed came to Muir’s room and found Hogg and Pickering in the room. Hogg claims that Ahmed, who was holding a baseball bat at this time, told him to leave. Hogg got dressed and left at the same time as Ahmed. After walking around for a while, Hogg spent the rest of the night in an abandoned car.
Both Alan Nobes, another tenant in the same house, and tenants who lived at the property next door (which was also owned by the Ahmed brothers) testified that Ahmed was angry and wielding a baseball bat. Nobes testified that Ahmed knocked on his door around 1:45am asking him if he knew anything about Hogg living in Muir’s room (although in their ruling the Court of Appeal stated that this must have happened earlier than Nobes stated, during this third visit).
The fourth visit
At some point between 1:30am and 2:45am, Ahmed made what he claims is his final visit to the property to see whether Hogg was still in Muir’s room. Other tenants heard Ahmed demand to be let into room 6. When he did not gain entry he went down to Renuka’s flat, where he found David Pickering. He took the keys from Pickering and checked the room, but Hogg was nowhere to be found. He returned the keys to Pickering.
The tenants next door heard some of these events, and testified that they saw Ahmed put the baseball bat on his passenger seat. A number of tenants testified that Ahmed was angry and upset, and seemed to have been drinking. One tenant, Jason Boreham, was the sole witness who claimed he heard Ahmed say he would be back in an hour.
A fifth visit?
Only Renuka claims to have witnessed the fifth visit. She claims that at some point after the fourth visit, Pickering decided to return to his room. Renuka had arranged to join him for a drink of tea. She claims that on her way up to room 6, she bumped into Ahmed coming down from room 6. She claims that Ahmed said, “I did warn him and I’m warning you. You know what’s what. Keep your mouth shut”. She claims she followed him downstairs and watched him leave. Before he left he was supposed to have asked how her son was, which she took as a veiled threat.
Discovering the body
Taken from the Court of Appeals’ ruling, paragraph 20:
“Once the appellant [Ishtiaq Ahmed] had left the house she said that she went up to room 6. The door was slightly open and the lock was broken. She entered and saw David Pickering lying on the floor between the bed and the wardrobe. She shook him and put her hands to his mouth to see if he was breathing. She also felt for a pulse. She concluded that he was dead. She stayed in the room for about five minutes and then went to the lavatory where she was sick. She did not know how long she remained in the lavatory before returning to her own room in the basement, where she stayed listening to tapes on her Walkman until Stephen Muir came home from work at about 7.20 a.m. She followed Stephen Muir upstairs. She did not tell him what she had found earlier, and watched as he tried to resuscitate the deceased.”
Calling the emergency services
Paragraph 21 from the same document:
“An ambulance was summoned at 7.53 and arrived five minutes later. There was evidence to suggest that the deceased’s body was already cooling by that time and that certain areas of the surface of his skin were cold to the touch. In the light of that evidence and her findings at the post mortem, the pathologist expressed the view that death probably occurred at some time between 3.30 and 7.30 a.m. She could not be more definite.”
The evidence against Ishtiaq Ahmed
The Court of Appeals’ document states that the evidence is as follows:
- Renuka Pun’s testimony that she saw Ahmed coming down from Pickering’s room, and the things he is alleged to have said
- The testimony of Jason Boreham, that Ahmed would make a fifth visit that night
- Statements from two witnesses who claimed that Ahmed’s car had not been parked on his girlfriend’s street, where he claimed to be
- He had a key for the property
- He had displayed anger
- Evidence from Police officers that when they arrived at his girlfriend’s house to arrest Ahmed, his car windows were clear and not steamed up like others on the street
- Suggestions from the Police that both Ahmed and his girlfriend were changing their story to fit events; and that at times they did not even agree with each other
- Ahmed’s resistance to arrest, to the extent that the Police had to break down the bedroom door
- The fact that Ahmed apparently did not ask who had been murdered until the interviews were well advanced
The evidence from Renuka Pun
Renuka gave five separate witness statements:
- In the first statement, on October 17th, Ahmed only made four visits. The last visit was at 5am. David Pickering was still in her room at that point, and didn’t return to his own room until 7:30am. At 7:45am Muir came home. He and Renuka went up to room 6, and found Pickering dead at that point.
- On October 19th she made a second statement, claiming that Ahmed had assaulted one of the other tenants – Alan Nobes – by taking hold of his throat.
- The third statement “added little” (according to the Court of Appeals) but did include another reference to Ahmed visiting the property at around 5am.
- The fourth statement “was of no consequence”, again according to the Court of Appeals.
- On November 8th, when she had moved out of the Reading area, she gave her fifth statement. She now claimed that Ahmed had prodded Pickering with the baseball bat; that he had gone back to his room much earlier than previously claimed; and introduced the detail about Ahmed’s fifth visit, and his threats. She said that only now that she had moved out of the area did she feel safe enough to tell the full story.
Events following the conviction
Muir and Renuka Pun lived together, at various addresses without ever returning to Reading, until April 1998. There are two events connected with them during that period worth noting.
The first thing is that Stephen Muir was dismissed from his role by the University of Sunderland, on 11th October 1996, for reasons unknown.
The second is that on March 3rd and 4th 1998, Renuka Pan called Naheed Khan, Ishtiaq Ahmed’s younger sister. The calls on the 3rd were partially recorded, whilst the calls on the 4th were wholly recorded. In the last of these calls Renuka claimed that the person that she met coming down the stairs from room 6 and who had threatened her was not Ishtiaq Ahmed, but Alan Nobes, the tenant from room 5 which was on the floor below room 6. During the calls Renuka says that she needs money to move house.
On June 20th that year she was interviewed by two representatives of the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) at her home and in the presence of a friend. First, she claimed that it was not her voice on the recordings. Then she claimed she would only speak at a police station, and without her friend present.
She later claimed that she did not believe that the CCRC representatives were genuine, and also that she did not want her friend to know why she had called Naheed Khan. During her interview at the police station, she said that she had been visited by a Pakistani man who had told her that he knew why Muir had been sacked by the University of Sunderland and if she didn’t want that knowledge to become public, she should make the calls to Naheed Khan. The Court of Appeals indicated that they knew why he had been dismissed but declined to explain further. Renuka said that during some of the calls, the man had been present in her house.
On October 4th 2001 Renuka was visited at home by officers of Thames Valley Police. She refused to be interviewed formally and would not allow their conversation to be recorded. She repeated the story about the threats from the Pakistani man, although the Court of Appeals notes that there were some differences in her story.
During a video interview in connection with Ahmed’s appeal, Renuka claimed that a mental condition stopped her from recalling specific details, although she could produce no medical evidence of that. During that interview she denied an accusation that she was selling the truth for money, and convinced the Court of Appeals that the story of the Pakistani man was true.
Thames Valley Police
Ishtiaq Ahmed made a formal complaint that officers of Thames Valley Police had coerced witnesses to commit perjury. Accordingly, a limited investigation was initiated and supervised by the Police Complaints Authority, and carried out by Bedfordshire Police.
In February 1995, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) successfully applied to the High Court to suppress the resultant report from this investigation on the grounds of Public Interest Immunity. In July of that year the Home Secretary ordered a review of the case, but then refused to refer the case to the Appeal Court.
In a document from Ishtiaq Ahmed to the Appeal Court, Ahmed claims:
- The detective inspector in charge of the case was suspended for perverting the course of justice
- The same DI was involved in a hit and run incident; he ran away from the scene but was later caught
- One officer was disciplined for using brutality against witnesses
- Another officer, who it was said was fabricating witness statements, died whilst smuggling drugs
- Another article claims that an ambulance worker complained of pressure from Thames Valley Police officers over her statement
2002 CCRC review
On August 24th 2002, the Criminal Cases Review Commission upheld the original conviction of murder.