October 23 2014 Latest news:
Thursday, May 22, 2014
A pregnant Romanian prostitute was stabbed to death in an Ilford street by a “young Muslim man with a shaven head and long beard” who rode off on his bicycle, a court heard.
Mariana Popa, 24, had been in Britain just three weeks and was trying to earn the money to support her family when she was murdered.
She staggered into Chicken & Pizza 4U in Ilford Lane and collapsed in a pool of blood, Woolwich Crown Court heard.
Farooq Shah, 20, is accused of murdering Miss Popa, who was six weeks pregnant with her second child. But Mr Shah claims it is a case of mistaken identity.
In a statement Miss Popa’s boyfriend, Nicolae Drezaliu, said the two of them had moved to London just three weeks before she was killed, following the news that she was pregnant.
Jurors heard the couple, who left the Romanian city of Caracal in 2012 for Italy, decided to move to Ilford where Miss Popa had some friends.
“It was while we were in Italy Mariana told me she was pregnant, it was a wanted pregnancy,” Mr Drezaliu said.
“I was left out of work three weeks before so we left for England three or four days later with friends, driving for about 24 hours until we arrived in Ilford.
“Through contacts we got an address in Barking where we rented a room in a flat for a £100 a week, all other tenants were Romanian.
“Two or three days after we moved to the address Mariana went to the Romanian shop on Ilford Lane to buy something.
“When she came back home she told me she had met a woman who told her she will ring if she finds any work for her.
“The next day she went out at about 9pm - she told me she was working at a restaurant about 20 to 30 kilometres away,” Mr Drezaliu added.
“Two or three nights she worked until 12.30am an then one time she didn’t come back until 9am - she told me she had slept at friends, there was no reason to be suspicious at the time.”
Miss Popa had worked as a prostitute three times on Ilford Lane, a stretch of road notorious for sex workers, before she was murdered.
Jurors heard that after not working for four days straight Miss Popa left her home at 9pm on October 28 to return to soliciting.
She was stabbed twice in the chest just hours later and collapsed inside Chicken & Pizza 4U.
Paramedics rushed to the scene but the mother of one was pronounced dead during surgery at Royal London Hospital at 2am.
A post-mortem found that the mother of one died of shock, haemorrhage and stab wounds.
“After she was murdered police told me it was possible she was working as a prostitute on Ilford Lane,” Mr Drezaliu added.
“I’m still in shock and devastated. Our plans to have a family have been dashed.”
The court was told that descriptions of Miss Popa’s killer, a young Muslim man with a shaven head and a long beard, matches Shah.
Jurors were played CCTV footage which showed the killer riding away from the scene on a bicycle following the attack, in the late hours of October 28.
When officers arrived at Shah’s address in Forest Gate, they found a bicycle matching the killer’s outside his home.
But Shah claims he is a victim of mistaken identity and that he was at a party in Plaistow on the night of Miss Popa’s death.
Ian Bourne, QC, defending, said CCTV footage of Miss Popa’s killer is of too poor a quality to be matched to Shah.
“The footage may be showing another person with very similar characteristics to the defendant’, he said.
“All these images are particularly poor in terms of quality.
“And the appearance of a bald or shaved headed Muslim man with a bushy beard isn’t unique in Ilford.”
Shah, of Station Road, Forest Gate, denies the murder of Miss Popa.
The trial continues.
Police are appealing to anyone with information in relation to a stolen vehicle to come forward.