A depraved Domino’s delivery driver was today jailed for life with a minimum term of 36 years for the murder of primary school teacher Sabina Nessa – who he brutally killed in a ‘sadistic and sexually motivated attack’ after planning to target a lone woman at random.
Koci Selamaj, 36, cowardly refused to face Ms Nessa’s family in Court Two of the Old Bailey today as well as yesterday, while his father and sister watched from the public gallery.
Earlier this morning his lawyer had said he would never explain why he had done it, vowing to ‘stay forever silent’.
But sentencing him, Judge Mr Justice Sweeney said Selamaj had ‘positively enjoyed what he did in the park’.
Addressing him in absentia, he told him: ‘A much loved 28-year-old primary school teacher who on the 17th of September was killed by him, a complete stranger, during a predatory attack upon her when she was walking alone.
‘She was savagely beaten unconscious, dragged off the beaten track into an area of long grass.
‘Yesterday the defendant refused to leave the prison to attend court or to attend from the prison via video link.
‘However cowardly those refusals may be, I have no power to force him to attend. It may be that he will never be released.
‘Sabina Nessa was a wholly blameless victim of an absolutely appalling murder which was entirely the fault of the defendant, which has added to the sense of insecurity people, particularly woman living in our cities, when walking or travelling alone especially at night.
‘Sabina’s was a life that mattered, a life that did not deserve to be taken in such a heinous and cowardly way.
‘She had every right, as her family say, to be walking through the park all glammed up and going to enjoy herself after a long week of work.
‘She died in a way that no one should. It is not suggested by him that he has any remorse for what he did to Sabina Nessa.’
Mr Justice Sweeney said it was a sexually motivated murder carried out a time of concern for the safety of young women in the ‘aftermath’ of Sarah Everard’s killing six months earlier.
The Albanian was seen ‘skulking’ in the shadows of Cator Park in south east London while waiting for a victim on the evening of September 17.
He had spent the evening driving around Brighton and then heading to London in search of a woman to attack.
But it was Ms Nessa he targeted in Cator Park as she walked past around 20 minutes later, with CCTV showing him stopping, turning around and sprinting after the 28-year-old before battering her 34 times with a 2ft-long metal traffic triangle, which shattered to pieces as she tried to fight him off.
Selamaj then carried away an unconscious Ms Nessa, removed her underwear and finally strangled her to death with her tights. Investigators believe he took her knickers as a depraved trophy of the attack.
The murderer had sickeningly kept hitting her with the traffic triangle – which he had coldly selected due to its weight – despite the fact she had lost consciousness.
Albanian national Koci Selamaj, 36, (left) used ‘extreme violence’ to kill teacher Sabina Nessa, 28, (right) whose body was uncovered underneath a pile of leaves in Cator Park, London
Selamaj hit Ms Nessa so violently with this traffic triangle that it fell apart in his hands (image released by the Met)
After being rejected, Selamaj drove to London and went to a Sainsbury’s to buy a rolling pin, with CCTV showing him move it to and fro in his hands as if testing its strength
The empty dock at Court Two of the Old Bailey depicted today as Selamaj refused to attend his sentencing before Mr Judge Sweeney
The body of the ‘kind, positive and dedicated’ teacher, who lived 300 yards away and taught a year one class at Rushey Green Primary School in Catford, was discovered nearly 24 hours later by a dog walker hidden underneath a pile of grass.
Ms Nessa had only decided to walk through the park as a shortcut because she was running late for a meeting at The Depot bar in Kidbrooke Village – having previously told friends she usually avoided the route.
Prosecutors made clear she was not known to Selamaj beforehand and he was targeting any ‘vulnerable lone woman’ in a similar fashion to Wayne Couzens’ killing of Sarah Everard six months prior.
Earlier on the day of the killing Selamaj had driven to the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne to proposition his wife, Ionela – who worked there – for sex.
She refused, having left him weeks before after trying to strangle her at least three times. The killer had a row with staff at the five-star hotel over payment for his £400 room, which led to them calling police via 101.
After being rejected by his estranged wife, Selamaj also tried to meet someone for sex in Brighton but failed. The prosecution said he was ‘looking for someone to have a sexual encounter with’ when he drove to London and went to a Sainsbury’s to buy energy drink, chilli powder and a rolling pin, with CCTV showing him move it to and fro in his hands as if testing its strength.
He dumped the traffic triangle he eventually used to murder Ms Nessa in the Teise River in Kent while driving back to Eastbourne, where he lived, with his route tracked by police using ANPR cameras.
Police said they were unsure why Selamaj decided to drive to London, and Kidbrooke in particular, when he had never been there before.
Detective Sergeant Mark Johnson said: ‘When he was cautioned, he said, ”What would happen if I open up now?’. That is the only thing that he has said to the police throughout the investigation.’
Prosecutor Alison Morgan QC said Ionela, the killer’s abused wife, was ‘devastated’ at her husband’s actions and had returned home to Romania, while the rest of his family found his actions ‘simply inexplicable’. She reported Selamaj to police after seeing his image circulating in the media.
It is believed that Selamaj used his Greek citizenship to arrive in Britain – before marrying his wife Ionela four years ago. She is believed to have settled status in the UK, with Selamaj obtaining a five-year spouse visa. Ionela repeatedly subjected to domestic abuse, although these incidents were not reported to police.
Ms Nessa had made plans to meet a friend at The Depot bar in Kidbrooke Village on the evening of September 17. From her home, her route took her through Cator Park where Selamaj was waiting.
Alison Morgan QC said: ‘It was out of character for Sabina to walk in Cator Park after dark.’
Ms Nessa had discussed being concerned about being there after dark.
The route Ms Nesser took where Selamaj had laid in wait to attack a woman in his depraved sexually motivated murder
Earlier on the day of the killing, September 17, Selamaj had driven to the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne (where he is seen on CCTV) to proposition his estranged wife, Ionela – who worked there – for sex. She refused
Selamaj was caught on CCTV near Pegler Square in London (pictured above) and later spoke with staff in the lobby of The Grand Hotel, Eastbourne wearing the same clothes he was earlier seen in
Pictured above: A forensics tent in Cator Park in Kidbrooke, south east London, where the teacher was found dead
‘It seems likely that she chose to walk across the park that night because she was running late and this was the quickest route to get to the Depot Bar,’ Ms Morgan said.
The court was shown CCTV footage of Selamaj in Sainsbury’s buying items including a rolling pin, which was later recovered from the wheel well of the boot of his car.
Ms Morgan said he had picked up the rolling pin and gone back to his car when he realised a ‘better weapon’ was an emergency triangle.
DCI Neil John, of the Met Police, said: ‘It’s quite poignant and sad that she had spoken previously that she avoided that route. Due to running late, we surmise that she had taken a shortcut and gone through the path.
‘Other cameras in the park show Selamaj entered the park 22 minutes earlier and was, in my words, skulking in the shadows.
‘Unfortunately, she had the misfortune of crossing paths with him and as the imagery shows they pass each other on the pathway, he carries on walking shortly, turns, looks and gives a momentary glance and then looks back at Sabina.
‘He runs at her in a rapid pace and attacks her with a red warning triangle.’
Ms Morgan said an examination of Ms Nessa’s body showed no positive signs of sexual assault but that it couldn’t be excluded.
‘The defendant removed Ms Nessa’s tights and underwear and lifted her clothes so that the mid and upper parts of her body were exposed.
‘The circumstances in which Ms Nessa’s body was found demonstrate the sexual motivation that must have existed,’ she added.
Ms Morgan warned those assembled in court before showing CCTV of the attack on Ms Nessa.
Selamaj was in the park for 25 minutes with his hood up and emergency triangle in hand before Ms Nessa arrived.
In grainy footage, Ms Nessa appeared ‘oblivious’ as Selamaj ran up behind her and attacked her on the path near a park bench. He hit her over the head 34 times with his weapon, which broke apart as he rendered Ms Nessa unconscious. Selamaj then dragged her up a slope and out of view for 10 minutes.
Ms Morgan said the defendant asphyxiated her and removed her tights and underwear before trying to cover her body in grass. He returned to Ms Nessa’s body for another 10 minutes. Selamaj used wet wipes to clean the park bench before leaving the park.
On his way back to Eastbourne, Selamaj disposed of the emergency triangle in the River Teise in Tunbridge Wells, Kent.
Ms Morgan invited the court to conclude there was a sexual motive for the killing, even though there was no ‘positive’ evidence of a sexual assault.
The court heard Selamaj arrived back at The Grand Hotel at midnight and checked out in the morning and went to work at an Esso garage in Lewes.
Selamaj was arrested on September 26 last year and trainers with Ms Nessa’s blood on them were seized from his home.
He refused to comment in police interviews but when he was charged, the Albanian national said: ‘What will happen if I open up now and say everything.’
Prosecutor Alison Morgan QC said Ionela, the killer’s abused wife, was ‘devastated’ at her husband’s actions and had returned home to Romania. She reported Selamaj to police after seeing his image circulating in the media
Security camera footage from a London police station shows him holding his head in his hands as he was charged with murder
The court heard how – earlier on the day of the killing on September 17 – Selamaj had booked a room at The Grand Hotel in Eastbourne.
Ms Morgan Morgan suggested booking a room at the hotel near his home was ‘indicative of his premeditation to have some kind of sexual encounter that evening’.
At about 6pm that day, Selamaj contacted his estranged partner.
In a statement, she said he appeared ‘very agitated’ when they met at his car near the hotel.
She said: ‘I think that he wanted to have sex in the car. I don’t know what was bothering him, but he was very agitated.’
She refused to join him on the back seat and left, the court was told.
Asked about the 101 call staff made to Sussex Police, Mr John said ‘police can’t go to everything’ and said he thought the call handler acted appropriately.
Following Ms Nessa’s murder, Selamaj was arrested in the seaside town and charged over her death days later.
In a police interview, he made no comment except to deny murder when asked directly if he was responsible for killing Ms Nessa.
Security camera footage from a London police station shows him holding his head in his hands as he was charged with murder. He later changed his plea to guilty.
Ms Nessa’s parents, Abdur Rouf and Aziban Nessa, provided a victim impact statement that was read out to the court.
They described their daughter as a ‘girly girl’ who loved ‘makeup, handbags and shoes’. She was ‘kind, generous, funny and determined’, the court heard.
Addressing Selamaj, in absentia, they said: ‘As a parent, you would never have thought your child would die before you. You had no right to take her away from us in such a way.’
They described how their ‘world shattered into tiny pieces and these pieces cannot be put back together
‘You are not a human being, you are an animal,’ they said.
The couple continued: ‘Did you really think you wouldn’t get caught?… You have no right to take our daughter’s life away and no right to touch her.’
Reading her statement, Ms Nessa’s sister Jabina Islam called Selamaj a ‘coward’ for not facing up to his crime in court.
She said: ‘You are an awful human being and do not deserve your name to be said. You are a disgusting animal.’
She said her sister was an ‘amazing role model’ who was ‘powerful, fearless, bright and just an amazing soul’. Ms Islam described being haunted by images of what her sister went through in her last moments.
Meanwhile, headteacher Lisa Williams described the ‘devastating’ impact on Ms Nessa’s school, Rushey Green Primary.
She said Ms Nessa was a ‘happy, hard-working’ teacher who had a ‘fulfilling career ahead of her’.
Regarding Ms Nessa’s class of 30 students, she said: ‘For the rest of their lives, these young children will never be able to comprehend why someone murdered their teacher and the world in which they live is not safe for them to play in a park.’
The Met’s DCI Neil John said: ‘Sabina was just 28 years old when her life was cruelly taken away. She was a sister, a daughter and an aunt. She was a teacher loved by her pupils and a friend to many. Her family described her as fun, determined and kind.
‘As I said on conviction I don’t want to waste too many words on Selamaj. He is an evil coward who cruelly took away the bright future of a young woman and has never given any explanation for his actions. These are some brief details of what we do know about him.
‘We are pleased that Selamaj will now spend the majority of his life in prison, unable to cause this kind of pain and heartache to any other families. We also know that thankfully, cases like this are incredibly rare.
‘But we are not naïve. Right across the Met, we know that there is more to do when it comes to tackling violence against women and girls.’
Helen Ellwood, from the Crown Prosecution Service, added: ‘Sabina Nessa was 28 years old when her life was cut short as a result of truly evil violence inflicted on her as she walked through a park.
‘Koci Selamaj has shown little remorse for his premeditated and predatory attack on a lone woman who was a stranger to him.
‘His cowardly actions have devastated a family and caused immeasurable pain to all those who knew and loved Sabina.
‘The prosecution was able to build the strongest possible case resulting in Selamaj admitting his guilt as a result of meticulous investigation led by the Metropolitan Police, which included an extensive review of CCTV footage and detailed forensic work.’
Ms Ellwood said the CPS was committed to prosecuting violence against women and girls, and she hoped the conviction would bring some sense of justice to Ms Nessa’s family and friends.
It comes as a former colleague, who asked not to be named, said Selamaj was ambitious and moved to the UK to better himself and had taken a job as a pizza delivery driver at Dominos ‘to get ahead.’
He said: ‘He was only been married for a while and he was living in a flat with his wife. He wanted to get ahead. He wanted to move from their flat. He wanted to make some money and get another job.
Selamaj strangled Ms Nessa (pictured) in undergrowth and removed her tights and underwear in what was suspected to be a sexually-motivated attack, prosecutors said
Forensic investigators discovered a small piece of Sabina’s blood on Selamaj’s trainers, a pair of black Sketchers
‘His wife, also, was working and they were saving for a better flat. He seemed ordinary, normal, a regular guy. I was shocked when I found out he had been arrested.’
A former neighbour, Piotr Graz, said: ‘Everyone was shocked when he was arrested. He was married with a very nice wife and they seemed very close. They wanted to get a bigger flat.
‘I know Koci used to go to London to see people he knew from his [Albanian] community.
‘He used to go when he wasn’t working.
‘He seemed like a regular guy and I would never think he was guilty of the crimes he has been accused of. He was so mild and calm.’
He said: ‘I’m not sure his wife is even in the country anymore. I haven’t seen her for a long time.’
Last October, around 200 people gathered in Eastbourne, East Sussex, to pay tribute to the school teacher and protest the ‘crisis of violence against women’.
The peaceful demonstration was marked by cheers and applause as those addressing the crowd spoke out against victim blaming.
Speaking outside the Old Bailey on Friday, February 25, Ms Nessa’s sister Jebina Islam (above) broke down in tears as told how the guilty plea was ‘difficult to digest’
Jebina Yasmin Islam, Sabina’s sister, was seen arriving at the Old Bailey in London on Friday, February 25 for the trial of Koci Selamaj
The Depot bar in Pegler Square, where Ms Nessa was due to meet with a friend before she was ambushed and killed
Police investigating the death of Sabina Nessa pictured at a flat in Eastbourne
Last October, around 200 people gathered in Eastbourne, East Sussex, to pay tribute to the school teacher and protest the ‘crisis of violence against women’
Later, the darkening sky was lit with the lights from dozens of mobile phones, as a minute’s silence was held for Ms Nessa.
Sabina’s sister Jebina Yasmin Islam broke down as she addressed crowds.
She said: ‘Words cannot describe how we are feeling, this feels like we are stuck in a bad dream and can’t get out of it – our world is shattered, we are simply lost for words.
‘No family should go through what we are going through.’
The vigil came after public outrage and debate over women’s safety and policing in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard, who was killed by a serving Met Police officer.
How Sabina Nessa’s killer planned to murder women: Married Domino’s delivery driver posed as a ‘charming’ husband to hide sadistic sexual fantasies
Dan Sales and Andrew Young in Elbasan, Albania for MailOnline
Murderer Koci Selamaj posed as a ‘charming’ husband but secretly harboured sick sadistic fantasies that saw him prey upon and kill innocent Sabina Nessa.
The depraved school drop-out managed to hoodwink everyone around him to his true nature before he struck on September 17 last year.
He started life in a first floor flat in a drab communist-era housing block in a northern suburb of the city of Elbasan, Albania.
The Old Bailey heard Selamaj (above) had a history of violence, having previously put his hands around the throat of his former partner in a strangling motion. Two hours before he attacked Ms Nessa, Selamaj had sough to contract his former partner to pressure her to engage in sexual activity
His 73-year-old father, Bashkim, slammed his son for his actions, saying he was ‘so sad’ for Ms Nessa’s family and he couldn’t believe what he had done.
After dropping out from school, Selamaj went to Greece before finally coming to the UK.
Arriving in Eastbourne, Selamaj worked two jobs – at ESK car wash during the day and then as a pizza delivery driver for Dominos in the evening.
He is understood to have met Romanian-born Ionela Gherghisan in the seaside town and started an off-on relationship with her before they married in 2018.
A witness to their wedding, Michael Scott, 58, first met Ionela in 2017, a year or so after she moved to the UK.
He said he thought Ionela may have already been seeing Selamaj but had fled the relationship and was looking for help from a local Christian organisation which helps immigrants who are struggling after moving to the UK.
Mr Scott, an A&E nurse at Eastbourne General Hospital, and his wife Anne are part of the group.
He said: ‘It’s like an outreach service at a local cafe where they can meet people from similar backgrounds and help each other get work. It provides help and support.’
Describing meeting Ionela, he said: ‘She was desperate when we met her, really desperate. I think she had been with Selamaj before and had left him and was then looking for help.
‘She hadn’t been in a refuge or anything like that as far as I know but she was desperate for help.
‘We became quite friendly with her. She’s a really nice person. I don’t know how she met him. My gut reaction is she was probably brought into the country by him.’
It is understood the relationship rekindled and Mr Scott was introduced to Selamaj.
He said: ‘He was charming when I met him and his English was very, very good. He was bright and friendly though he did seem a little shifty. I wasn’t sure of him 100 per cent.
‘Around six months after I met her, Ionela announced they were going to be married. She asked my wife, Anne, and I to be witnesses for her at the wedding to him.
‘It wasn’t a marriage of convenience. There was definitely a genuine relationship between them. They did seem to love each other. They were touching each other and kissing each other like a normal couple.
‘On their wedding day she looked lovely and he was very smart. She had on a lovely dress and they were married by the registrar. The ceremony was in English – they both spoke it very well – though Ionela would sometimes speak Italian.
‘There were only a handful of people there and after the wedding we went to a pub or cafe, I forget, for a drink.’
The body of Ms Nessa, who taught a year one class at Rushey Green Primary School in Catford, was found nearly 24 hours after the attack and covered with leaves near a community centre in the park
He said Ionela and Selamaj split up sometime in 2020 and she was later seen suffering injuries including bad bruising.
Mr Scott said: ‘She told us she had been in a car accident in Brighton. She was quite badly hurt. She was black and blue. She was bruised all over.
‘She told us she had stepped off a curb in front of a car. She said she was admitted into hospital but now I’m starting to suspect whether that was a car accident or not.’
Another former friend of the couple, an ex-delivery driver, met Selamaj when he came to Eastbourne looking for work.
He said Selamaj was delighted when he married Ionela and said it was the best thing that had happened to him but when the marriage broke down he became very introverted and moody and was prone to angry outbursts.
He said: ‘He was very bitter and upset by the whole thing. I don’t think he was happy at that time. He could get quite angry.’
Selamaj (above), from Eastbourne, East Sussex, was jailed for killing Ms Nessa who was found dead in Cator Park, Kidbrooke, in September last year
He said he lost touch with Selamaj but was hugely shocked when he found out he had admitted the murder.
He said: ‘He didn’t seem the type of person who would do such a horrible thing. I still can’t believe he did it.’
It is believed Selamaj left Albania around 20-years-ago to start a new life in western Europe.
Local residents in his home town of Elbasan believe he first went to Greece for several years, possibly with his older brother, before eventually finding his way to the UK.
Selamaj’s parents Bashkim, 73, and Tefta, 70, are understood to still own the flat at the top of a crumbling flight of steps in the five storey block.
The couple are said to live most of the time in the Albanian capital Tirana.
The area where Selamaj spent his childhood is one of the poorest parts of Elbasan which is Albania’s fourth largest city.
Unemployment is high and many impoverished locals struggle to eke out a living selling homegrown vegetables and second hand clothes on the street.
Selamaj’s father is believed to have worked as a builder while his mother’s family is said to come from a family of cattle farmers living in the countryside in a remote part of Albania.
One near neighbour said: ‘I remember Koci, but I have not seen him for 20 years. I think he left because he wanted a better life and I don’t think he has been back.
‘You cannot blame him for wanting to leave. There are not a lot of opportunities around here for a young man.
‘His family are respectable people. They must be heartbroken that he has been charged with this awful crime.’
Another near neighbour said that she remembered him having a brother and sister.
The neighbour said: ‘He was a nice boy and used to play with the other children when he was growing up.’
A local resident added: ‘Albania is a poor country. Life is hard here and people have to earn a living as best they can.
‘A lot of people buy second hand clothes on the street because they cannot afford new ones in the shops.’
MailOnline saw hard-up locals sitting near Selamaj’s old home selling bunches of grapes, tomatoes, peppers and misshapen aubergines.
Others were trying to find buyers for old clothes, shoes, household ornaments, battered second hand mobile phones and watches which they had piled up and in boxes on the roadside.
Stray dogs were seen roaming around the street while a man walked down the road clutching two live ducks, apparently destined for the dinner table.