Jailed for life: ‘Dishonest and manipulative’ Ilford church member convicted of murdering missing student

Shohfah-el Israel. Picture: Herts Police

Shohfah-el Israel. Picture: Herts Police - Credit: Archant

An Ilford churchgoer has been jailed for at least 17 years for the murder of midwifery student Joy Morgan.

Joy Morgan. Photo: Herts Police

Joy Morgan. Photo: Herts Police - Credit: Archant

Shohfah-El Israel, whose birth name is Ajibola Shogbamimu, was convicted by a jury at Reading Crown Court today (Monday, August 5) of killing Ms Morgan after spending time alone with her - against strict church rules - in December.

The 20-year-old student's body has never been recovered, despite extensive police searches of hundreds of acres of land in Hertfordshire.

Israel was convicted by a jury of eight women and four men on a single count of murder.

A victim impact statement read on behalf of Ms Morgan's mother Carol described her as "my shining light and my superstar".

Ms Morgan described as a "natural" who would have been "an amazing midwife".

It added: "She was such a wonderful person, selfless, caring, loved by so many."

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Israel lied to the police when he was arrested, saying he had dropped Ms Morgan off at her student accommodation in Hatfield after a celebratory dinner at the American-founded Israel United in Christ Church they attended in Ilford on December 26.

The church was described during the trial as a strict organisation with a clear social hierarchy which sees men attain ranks including "soldier" and "officer" over women who are simply known as "sisters".

The church, founded in the US in 2003, teaches that black people and hispanics are the "biblical 12 tribes of the nation of Israel".

The Hainault Street branch, which Joy Morgan attended with some 150 members, is one of two in the UK, with another in the West Midlands, Reading Crown Court heard.

The church's 44 American branches were included on a list of "black nationalist hate groups" last year, compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Centre which monitors hate and extremist organisations in the US.

The centre said such groups "will likely continue to expand, coordinate, recruit and unify against what they perceive as their common enemies: Jews, white people and the police".

Church officials in the US hit back at "lies" they said were being spread on social media claiming it was hiding things in relation to Ms Morgan's disappearance.

While members of the church, which Ms Morgan had described as her "family", expressed shock at her apparent departure, they did not contact police to report her missing.

Her disappearance was reported by her mother Carol, who is not a member of the church, six weeks after she was last seen.

Israel told the court the church had been hit by controversy and that "hundreds" of people were breaking off towards the end of 2018.

He said Ms Morgan had claimed to have "inside information of people who were planning on leaving".

While male members have ranks including officers and soldiers, female members have no ranks and are called sisters.

Women in the church also often refer to men as "Sir" and "Master", the court heard.

The church has strict rules on women not being in the company of men other than their husbands and there is a ban on pre-marital sex.

Israel himself, who got married in 2016, told the court he knew he was "breaking the rule" by being alone in the car with Ms Morgan.

He said male church-goers were warned they should always have someone with them when they were with the sisters in case someone made "false" accusations.

The court also heard there are strict church rules on men and women dating - a so-called "proving" process which requires permission from the higher ranking male members and sees dates chaperoned.

Israel, 40, of Cricklewood, north London, was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 17 years.

Passing sentence, judge Michael Soole said: "Only you know the circumstances of your terrible deed and why you did it.

"You are evidently an intelligent man and have said nothing beyond the lies and the explanations which the jury has rejected.

"The court has heard the most moving personal statement from Joy's mother Carol Morgan, which speaks of Joy's warm, loving and caring personality and character.

"On top of all this must be the very particular and continuing distress and suffering which flows from your cruel and cowardly silence about Joy Morgan's final resting place.

"I am only too conscious that no sentence of the court can palliate the loss and grief for Mrs Morgan and the wider family."