30 years' jail for couple who tortured nanny to death over Boyzone star
A delusional couple have been jailed for at least 30 years for torturing their French nanny to death over a bizarre obsession with Mark Walton, a founder member of Boyzone.
"Vindictive and overbearing" Sabrina Kouider (35) and her "timid" partner Ouissem Medouni (40) killed 21-year-old Sophie Lionnet over a false belief she was in league with Walton.
Afterwards, they threw her body on a bonfire in the garden of their Wimbledon home in September last year.
Kouider went on to try to frame Walton for her disappearance to exact "revenge" on the former boyband member.
Yesterday as she was sentenced, Kouider apologised to her victim in a statement.
Following an Old Bailey trial, the defendants were found guilty of murder, having admitted perverting the course of justice.
Jailing the pair for life, Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC said: "Sophie was a kind, gentle and good-natured girl."
He said the allegations she was plotting with Walton to abuse the family were a "complete fiction".
There was no excuse for the "horrible cruelty" and "humiliation" the defendants exacted on Ms Lionnet during taped interrogations before her death, the judge said.
He said: "You were both involved in torturing Sophie in the bath in the lead-up to her death in making her think she would drown unless she gave you information you wanted, which was not in her power to give because it did not exist.
"The suffering and the torture you put her through before her death was prolonged and without pity."
He said their behaviour had its "origins in cruelty and a desire for revenge".
He told Kouider she was motivated by an unjustified desire to make Ms Lionnet and Walton "suffer", despite suffering from a mental disorder.
He told her: "I do not think you thought for one moment you were acting lawfully.
"I'm sure you knew the way you interrogated her was unacceptable in the extreme, that it was unlawful to assault her and she was in a dreadful state by the time of her death and torturing her in the bath was totally and utterly wrong."
The court heard Kouider's delusional disorder triggered her false belief Ms Lionnet had been seduced into helping Walton, Kouider's former boyfriend.
Over more than eight hours of recorded interrogations, the au pair was slapped, likened to a Nazi collaborator and called "worse than a murderer" by the couple.
They confiscated her identity card and phone and stopped paying her in a deliberate campaign to isolate her and force her to confess, the court heard.
In her final days, Ms Lionnet was hit with an electrical cable and beaten so badly she had five fractured ribs and a cracked breast bone. She appeared broken and emaciated in a videoed confession hours before she was killed in the bath.
The defendants claimed they planned to hand the tape to police as proof against Walton.
But the judge suggested it was more likely they would have sent it to the wealthy music mogul to force him to give them money.
When firefighters investigated pungent-smelling smoke coming from a bonfire, Medouni tried to pass off her charred remains as a sheep.
The defendants later admitted disposing of Ms Lionnet's body but denied her murder, blaming each other.
Following their convictions, Ms Lionnet's mother Catherine Devallonne said: "Those monsters repeatedly beat Sophie. They starved, tortured and broke her until she could no longer fight.
"They took away her dignity and finally her life painfully ebbed away until Sophie struggled to take her final terrified breath in the bath."
The victim's father Patrick Lionnet said what the couple did to his shy and reserved daughter was "beyond comprehension" and "unforgivable".
In a letter addressed "Dear Sophie", Kouider acknowledged the suffering of her victim and her family, saying how "deeply sorry I am about what happened to Sophie".
She wrote they shared some "good times" until "things went terribly wrong".
"I think of you every day and I am shocked and sad that you are not part of this world any more. It feels like a horrible dream to me that I wish I could just wake up from. Every day I live with sadness and sorrow," she wrote. "I am suffering every day thinking of you and what happened to you that dreadful night.
"I only wish I could turn the clock back so that it never happened and you would still be alive with us today," Kouider added.
In mitigation, Icah Peart QC said the fashion designer's delusional disorder coupled with an emotionally unstable personality disorder had caused her "irrational and completely overwhelming fear" that Ms Lionnet had been recruited by Walton.
He said her behaviour toward the victim was "entirely driven by Kouider's mental illness in her desperation to obtain evidence of Walton's abuse".
By the time of Ms Lionnet's death, it was Medouni who had taken over the "dominant role" in her interrogations, the lawyer argued.
But Orlando Pownall QC said Kouider was the "dominant" party who preyed on the "weak", including his client Medouni.
He said the former banker had been "indoctrinated" by a woman with the capacity for "sudden and extreme violence".
He said Medouni's love and desire to protect became "warped" and his inactivity and tacit support led to him being complicit in Kouider's scheme.