Couple guilty of murdering nanny over Boyzone singer ‘obsession’

Sophie Lionnet (21) was beaten, starved and tortured in weeks leading up to her death

Court artist sketch dated September 26th, 2017, by Elizabeth Cook of Ouissem Medouni (40) and his partner Sabrina Kouider (35) who have been found guilty of murdering their French nanny Sophie Lionnet. Photograph: Elizabeth Cook/PA Wire

Court artist sketch dated September 26th, 2017, by Elizabeth Cook of Ouissem Medouni (40) and his partner Sabrina Kouider (35) who have been found guilty of murdering their French nanny Sophie Lionnet. Photograph: Elizabeth Cook/PA Wire

 

A jury at the Old Bailey in London on Thursday convicted a French couple of murdering their French au pair girl near Wimbledon, motivated by a paranoid obsession with an Irish pop singer. The two-month trial was “stranger than fiction”, prosecutor Richard Howell QC said.

In early 2016 the victim, Sophie Lionnet, then aged 20, left her mother’s home in provincial Burgundy to work as an au pair for Sabrina Kouider and Ouissem Medouni in southwest London. The shy, frail young woman with a diploma in childcare wanted to learn English, and was impressed by Kouider’s claim to be a fashion designer.

In the weeks leading up to her death in September last year, the couple beat, starved and tortured 21-year-old Sophie Lionnet. Photograph: AFP/Metropolitan Police Service
In the weeks leading up to her death in September last year, the couple beat, starved and tortured 21-year-old Sophie Lionnet. Photograph: AFP/Metropolitan Police Service

Kouider and Medouni are French citizens of Algerian origin. Medouni, who goes by the name Sam, is the son of a plumber who became a banker at the Société Générale, but lost his job in 2012.

When Medouni saw Kouider working at a stall at a funfair in 2001, he was so intimidated that he couldn’t speak. He obtained her phone number from a friend. “I was very happy. She was so beautiful…”, he testified.

Kouider was frequently unfaithful and had two children with other men, including a son with Mark Walton, an Irish singer who was an original member of the Boyzone band in 1993. Each time a relationship failed, she returned to Medouni.

Walton flew from Los Angeles to testify in the trial on March 26th, and told of having met Kouider in Notting Hill in 2011. He described her as abusive, manipulative, controlling and calculating, in testimony reported by the Daily Telegraph newspaper. She could go from being “really gentle, sweet, loving” to “quite scary” in seconds. The two years they spent together were “probably the most turbulent relationship I have ever been in”, Walton said.

Obsession

Kouider reported Walton to the police more than 30 times. She accused him of sexually abusing a cat, though they had no cat, of black magic and of hiring a helicopter to spy on her. She telephoned Walton’s mother in Dublin, contacted his business partners and set up a fake Facebook page in which she called him a “paedophile”.

Kouider shared her obsession over Walton with Medouni, with whom she concluded a Muslim marriage. Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC said the couple succombed to a psychosis known as folie à deux.

In their delirium, Kouider and Medouni accused Lionnet of drugging their family and letting Walton into the house so he could sexually abuse the children and take a sperm sample from Medouni. They also accused the au pair of taking the children to another house on orders from Walton.

Walton’s passport showed he did not travel to the UK in 2017. The house where Kouider and Medouni claimed he raped the children was never found. The stories were pure fabrication. Howell, the prosecutor, thanked Walton for testifying with “integrity and honesty”.

Kouider physically attacked Lionnet for the first time in July 2017. “I should have bought her a ticket and sent her home,” Medouni testified. “It all went very fast after that.”

The couple recorded more than 8½ hours of “interrogations” of Lionnet on their smartphones. They slapped the young woman, called her a Nazi collaborator and told her she was “worse than a murderer”. On the videos, which were shown to jurors, Lionnet was emaciated, terrified, and clearly prepared to say anything her torturers wanted to hear.

Around September 13th, 2017, Medouni said, he was woken from a nap by Lionnet’s screams. “Sabrina was beating her with electrical cables. I stopped her. I told Sabrina, ‘You’re crazy. Don’t ever do that again’.” Medouni said he did not go to police because he feared social services would take the children into custody. He pleaded not guilty to murder, but admitted destroying Lionnet’s body.

Pungent smell

On September 17th, Medouni said, Kouider telephoned him in hysterics. He found his wife crying next to the bath tub. Lionnet wore underclothes and was badly bruised all over her body. He helped her out of the tub and into bed.

On the afternoon of September 20th, neighbours called the fire department because of smoke and a pungent smell coming from Kouider and Medouni’s back garden. Medouni claimed the flesh burning on the bonfire was lamb. Lionnet’s remains were so charred that forensic scientists could not establish the exact cause of death. They determined that her sternum, jaw and five ribs had been broken.

Kouider and Medouni will be sentenced on June 26th.

Catherine Devallonne, the mother of murdered French au-pair Sophie Lionnet, and her husband Stephane Devallonne, arrive at London’s Central Criminal Court. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images
Catherine Devallonne, the mother of murdered French au-pair Sophie Lionnet, and her husband Stephane Devallonne, arrive at London’s Central Criminal Court. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

The French government gave Lionnet’s parents financial assistance to attend the trial, which has been followed with great interest in France. The victim’s mother, Catherine Devallonne, wept when Kouider and Medouni were convicted on Thuraday. “These monsters repeatedly beat Sophie,” she said. “They starved, tortured and broke her. They took away her dignity and finally her life. Our Sophie will soon be laid to rest.”