For those who loved Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, the past 12 months have been traumatic for more reasons than just the horrific deaths of the sisters.
Separate to the trial of the women’s killer, two police officers have been charged with misconduct in public office over photographs taken at the scene where the two sisters’ remains lay.
With Tuesday’s conviction of Danyal Hussein for the sisters’ murder last year as part of a deal he was said to have made with a supposed “demon”, there is now an identified killer who will be sentenced for his crimes.
Yet over the course of four weeks of hearings at the Old Bailey, reminders of the slowness with which the police initially reacted to concerns about the sisters’ welfare after friends had been unable to reach them following a party on 5 June 2020 will not have gone unnoticed by their friends and family
Adam Stone, Nicole Smallman’s boyfriend, told the trial how he had discovered their bodies in bushes in Fryent Country Park, north-west London, on 7 June after he and others had launched their search. This search was a case of friends and family “doing the research the police are paid to do”, Mina Smallman, the sisters’ mother, had said in an interview with the BBC before the trial.
Stone would not have been the one to discover their bodies if police had deployed sooner and searched the park where the sisters had gathered with friends hours before Hussein killed them, a senior investigating officer told the trial.
Within minutes of Stone’s arrival at the park, where he was joined by his parents and another friend of the sisters, they had found what turned out to be the weapon, a knife that would become a focus of initial police inquiries.
Swabs of blood found at the scene, meanwhile, produced male DNA – labelled “Unknown One” – that was not on any police database. However, a breakthrough came when a “familial” DNA link was made on 30 June last year to someone whose DNA was on the database.
Investigators found that the teenager was a member of the same family and that his father lived near the park.
“One of my officers deployed to do some research around purchases of knife blocks piped up straight away and said: ‘I’ve got him buying knives in Asda a couple of days before,’” the trial was told by DCI Simon Harding, who led the inquiry.
CCTV covering Hussein’s Wembley address was recovered showing a male returning at about 4am on the morning of the killings.
“This was really, really quick. In an hour and a half we had everything,” said Harding, of a concentration of resources that led to Hussein being arrested at his mother’s house in south-east London early on 1 July.
In custody, Hussein refused to give a blood sample, but his decision to allow a swab to be taken from his inner cheek was to prove his undoing. The trial was told by police investigators how he had reacted with surprise when told that police had been able to get a DNA match to bloodstains at the murder scene despite his refusal to provide blood
The extent of that match, in evidential terms, was devastating. In fact, blood from the murder scene was a billion times more likely to have come from him than anyone else, the trial was told by forensic expert Saran Khera.
A note signed in blood, which was later found in Hussein’s bedroom and in which he draw up an agreement with a demon named “Lucifuge Rofocale” to “sacrifice” women in exchange for winning the lottery, provided another billion-to-one DNA match.
“Given the weight of the evidence against him, only someone who actually believes that an agreement with a demon will work could refuse to accept any aspect of the case against him,” jurors were told by prosecutor Oliver Glasgow QC.
Defending a client who declined to testify in his own defence – a decision which the judge said jurors would have to decide for themselves if they deemed it to go against him in any way – Hussein’s defence counsel was reduced to urging the jury to regard the police case as a “leaky ship” with holes in it.
Riel Karmy-Jones QC insisted that there were problems with some of the evidence as it was initially presented. The police, she maintained, considered the case a “slam dunk” after identifying Hussein as a suspect and then closed down other avenues of investigation.
At the same time as urging the jury not to be swayed by “sorrow or anger”, she also urged jurors not to judge Hussein, who told police that he had autism, on his behaviour in court, which she described as “odd”.
That behaviour had appeared to extend to repeatedly trying to make eye contact with Mina Smallman. Alongside her husband, Chris, Nicole’s father, she sat through much of the evidence in a trial that included detailed testimony of the multiple wounds sustained by the women.
But the women themselves – or rather their memories – were also present in the invocation of their zeal for life and of the happy circumstances in which they and friends at gathered at Fryent Country Park, a spot chosen for its views over London.
“It was a beautiful evening, amazing view, amazing sunset. We were all taking pictures remarking on the sky at night,” the trial had been told by Nina Esmat, one of the last to leave at about 11.45pm, while the sisters stayed on.
“I had the impression they were not going to stay long. It felt a safe space.”