A GANG battered Huddersfield shopkeeper Gurmail Singh to death with bottles of wine in a botched robbery, a court heard.
Five men plotted to steal from the 63-year-old at Cowcliffe Convenience Stores on Cowcliffe Hill Road on the night of February 20, a jury at Bradford Crown Court was told yesterday.
When Mr Singh tried to resist the four who had entered the shop, they snatched bottles from the shelves and bludgeoned him repeatedly in the head.
He died in the early hours of the following day.
Opening the prosecution’s case, Adrian Waterman QC said: "Gurmail Singh did not meekly hand over his property – his hard-earned money – and, when he resisted the robbers, they used serious violence, grabbing the nearest weapon to hand which happened to be bottles of wine he sold in the shop.
"He was hit on the head. In other words, this case is about a robbery gone wrong in just the sort of way anyone would realise a robbery such as this might go wrong."
Mr Waterman told the jury how evidence from an expert in bloodstains suggested the shopkeeper had been hit at least five times with "considerable force by a heavy, short object".
He said a forensic pathologist had concluded that there were six lacerations to Mr Singh’s head.
The prosecutor said it was logical to believe that the victim was hit with a minimum of six blows.
The gang escaped with a handful of cash, sweets and cigarettes.
After the killing, two of them tried to go to see a film at the cinema and two went to a restaurant.
All five were later seen drinking together on the street in Springwood – not far from the Sikh temple where Mr Singh used to worship.
The five accused of murdering Mr Singh are Umare Aslam, 20, of Coniston Avenue, Dalton; Muawaz Khalid, 20, of Blackmoorfoot Road, Crosland Moor; Shoaib Khan, 18, of Calton Street, Hillhouse; Nabeel Shafi, 18, of Park Hill, Bradley; and Rehman Afzal, 18, of Jacinth Court, Fartown.
All five are also accused of robbery. The jury heard yesterday that three have denied the robbery charge, but Afzal and Shafi have pleaded guilty.
All five deny murder.
Khan, who was not in the shop at the time of the robbery, has admitted a separate charge of assisting an offender.
But Mr Waterman said the robbery was a joint enterprise. He said all five must have known there was a strong chance of serious violence being carried out against Mr Singh. They were all, therefore, guilty of his murder.
"They were in it together," he said.
Mr Waterman told the jury Mr Singh had come to the UK from India in 1963 and worked in a mill and then a pipe maker’s before taking over the shop about five years before his death.
There had never been a robbery at the store until February 18 this year.
On that occasion two youths planned a raid. One, a 17-year-old who cannot be named for legal reasons, was locked up for six months for robbery in April. The other, 18-year-old Spencer Julien, is awaiting sentencing after admitting conspiracy to rob at Huddersfield Youth Court.
Mr Waterman said the five murder accused may have got the idea for their robbery after hearing about the earlier incident.
"You may think from the fact that another robbery had happened two days previously, at the same shop and at approximately the same time of night, that at least some of the defendants knew about it," he said.
The prosecution claims the five men gathered at Khan’s house at about 8.15pm on February 20 before heading to Fartown Cars on Alder Street to book a taxi to Fixby, near to the shop.
All five, apart from Khan, got in one taxi. Mr Waterman said Khan intended to get in another to follow them to the shop.
"Mr Khan did not go into the shop, but it is the Crown’s case he was still very much part of the plan to rob the shop," Mr Waterman said.
The court heard how customers of the nearby Shepherd’s Arms pub became suspicious when they saw two men – who the prosecution claims were Afzal and Aslam – come out of the shop shortly after 8.30pm and walk down Cowcliffe Hill Road before running off.
One witness, David Singh – who is not related to Gurmail Singh – knew about the previous robbery and went to check on the shop.
Mr Waterman said: "As he arrived at the door he could see two more males inside. They were rifling through the cigarettes and spirits shelf."
He trapped the two men – Shafi and Khalid – inside by holding the door shut.
They attempted to batter their way out using bottles before escaping through a back door.
A neighbour, Christopher Stoney, had heard a din and left his house to investigate. As he saw the pair running off, he chased after them and managed to rugby tackle one of them to the ground.
A third witness, Christopher Baker, launched a flying kick at the other. But both robbers managed to escape.
After calling police, the witnesses went to the shop to investigate.
"The scene which confronted those outside when they went inside was a desperate one," Mr Waterman said.
"The deceased was lying on the floor in the corner of the shop. The turban he always wore was off and his head was badly injured and bleeding."
The jury was shown photographs of the inside of the ransacked shop and of the floor covered in blood.
Subsequent examinations showed Mr Singh had been hit at least five times. He had bruises on his hands from where he had tried to defend himself.
CCTV footage recorded later that night showed Khan and Afzal going into the Odeon Cinema in Bradley Mills.
Khalid and Shafi were seen on CCTV in Malachi’s Restaurant in Huddersfield.
Shafi was heard claiming they had "beaten some guys up and had then run to get away’’.
Mr Waterman said: "It seemed like they were bragging. One of the customers heard them saying such things as they had got away from the copper chopper and that they could be looking at some time for this."
The five later met up at Water Street in Springwood. Two police officers were sent out to investigate reports of rowdy behaviour. They found an empty bottle of Jack Daniels and a bottle of lemonade.
Mr Waterman said: "All five defendants had got together and were sharing a drink and, no doubt, discussing what had happened in their planned robbery."
Mr Waterman also told the jury that Khalid confessed to a friend of his called Mohammed Akram how he had taken part in the attack.
He told the jury: "At one point he told Mr Akram that the group was attacking the shopkeeper, hitting him and hitting him because he was fighting back.
"They pinned him down.
"They used whatever they could lay their hands on to strike him on the head, to knock him out so he couldn’t get back up."
Mr Waterman also told the jury the defendant Aslam admitted to police he was known by the nickname ‘Crazy’.
The trial is expected to last up to six weeks. The case continues.