IN FULL: What judge said before jailing murderer for at least 29 years

Lawangeen Abdulrahimzai was sentenced for the murder of Tom Roberts by a judge at Salisbury Crown Court on Wednesday, January 25 <i>(Image: Dorset Police)</i>
Lawangeen Abdulrahimzai was sentenced for the murder of Tom Roberts by a judge at Salisbury Crown Court on Wednesday, January 25 (Image: Dorset Police)

CONVICTED murderer Lawangeen Abdulrahimzai received a life sentence with a minimum term of 29 years in prison for the murder of Tom Roberts.

Abdulrahimzai, 21 and of Hill Street, Poole, was found guilty of murdering 21-year-old Mr Roberts following a two-week trial at Salisbury Crown Court.

Judge Paul Dugdale handed down the life sentence at a hearing on Wednesday, January 25, after the court heard statemetns from Mr Roberts's father, mother, stepfather and girlfriend.

The judge also heard submissions from prosecutor Nic Lobbenberg KC and defence barrister Jo Martin KC.

Judge Dugdale's sentencing remarks were released following the hearing. They can be read in full below.

"I have to sentence Lawangeen Abdulrahimzai for the murder of Thomas Roberts on 12th March 2022. Lawangeen Abdulrahimzai pleaded guilty to unlawful act manslaughter, which was not accepted by the prosecution. He was convicted by the jury of murder on Monday after an 11-day trial.

"Although I am sentencing Mr Abdulrahimzai today, this exercise is not about him. It is about Thomas Roberts and the indescribable loss that his murder has caused to his family and friends.

Bournemouth Echo: Tom Roberts
Bournemouth Echo: Tom Roberts

Tom Roberts (Image: Submit)

"I have been greatly assisted by the statements of Thomas’ partner, Gemma Walker, his step-father, Peter Wallace, his mother Dolores Roberts-Wallace and what has been said in court today by Thomas’s father, Philip Roberts.

"It is very clear that Thomas was loved deeply by all of you. He was a contributor with many friends. He had worked hard to be in a position to put in his application to join the Royal Marines and although entry is notoriously tough, from what I have read, I have no doubt that he would have succeeded. He was 21 years old, with truly great prospects and the rest of his life to look forward to.

"On 11th March last year Thomas went for a night out in Bournemouth with some friends. James Medway described it as a quiet Friday night out. They had a few drinks, moved from bar to bar, and ended up having a laugh with some strangers who offered to share a bag of cookies with them. Both James Medway and Thomas wanted to head home and began arranging a taxi. It was then that James Medway saw a Beryl rental scooter leaning against the window of Subway."

Defendant's background

"That scooter had been left there moments earlier by Lawangeen Abdulrahimzai. Mr Abdulrahimzai’s age is not certain. He has been assessed by the court as having a date of birth of 7th October 2001, so he would have been 20 years old. He was born in Afghanistan but fled the country sometime before October 2015, so when he was 13. He travelled to Europe, probably via Pakistan and Turkey. We know between 2015 and 2019 he was in various countries, including Norway, Serbia and Italy. In November 2019 he made an asylum application in Norway which was refused. On 26th December 2019 he arrived in the UK at Poole ferry port. He claimed that he was 14 years old. In reality, he was 18. As a supposed child refugee he was put in the care of social services, and placed with an experienced foster parent Nicola Marchant-Jones.

"Her statement was read at trial and it sets out the love and care that she provided him and her growing concerns around his aggressive behaviour towards others. He got into fights at school, and in public, as shown in a video clip of him repeatedly punching a man. He began to carry a knife. He posted an image of himself on TikTok with a large knife, held in a way that suggested a degree of pride rather than fear. He threatened some unknown people in a park with a knife and on two occasions was spoken to very carefully by Dorset Police about the real dangers of carrying a knife and knife crime. He continued to carry a knife. Finally he was directly threatening towards Nicola Marchant-Jones, and had to leave her care."

Behaviour in hours before the stabbing

"On 11th March, Mr Abdulrahimzai left the hostel at which he was then living in Poole and caught a bus to Bournemouth. He had armed himself with the same knife that he had previously displayed on TikTok. In evidence he was to tell the court that he carried it for his own protection, in case he was attacked, as he said he had been before. He told the court that he would have pulled it out had he been sufficiently threatened, but only to frighten others. He spent the next few hours around Bournemouth seeing people he knew. On his evidence he drank alcohol and smoked cannabis.

"Mr Abdulrahimzai’s movements are picked up on CCTV. At around 0400 we can see him getting involved in an argument that was ongoing between Alfie Goulty and a middle-aged man with a beard. This had nothing to do with Mr Abdulrahimzai, yet we see him getting very close to the man with a beard in what appears to be an intimidating and aggressive manner. Alfie Goulty described Mr Abdulrahimzai as having an aggressive tone. In my judgment it is clear from the CCTV that he is looking for trouble. The man with the beard leaves. Mr Abdulrahimzai leaves but returns a short time later with a Beryl Scooter which he has found in Horseshoe Park. This he leans up against the Subway window at around 0440. Everything that takes place thereafter is clearly shown on CCTV."

Fatal incident developed in 26 seconds

"When he saw the scooter, James Medway joked to Thomas that they did not need a taxi as they could scoot home. He straddled the scooter and took hold of the handlebars to demonstrate. Mr Abdulrahimzai immediately moved very close to James Medway in an aggressive and threatening manner. Thomas intervened between the two of them with his back to Mr Abdulrahimzai and his arm outstretched. He said 'relax – there is no problem here'. His tone was calm and he was clearly trying to diffuse the situation. Thomas was not being aggressive; he was the peacemaker. Mr Abdulrahimzai immediately switched his attention to Thomas. James Medway described him as getting into Thomas’ face, squaring up to him in an aggressive way and saying something threatening. James Medway described Thomas as then giving Mr Abdulrahimzai a slap to the face, which he described as a “stay away” slap. It was described as an open palm slap, not full force. It could not have been interpreted as a significant threat in the slightest. Mr Abdulrahimzai responded by pulling out his knife and stabbing Thomas twice to the chest. Thereafter he ran away. Thomas took a few steps before collapsing to the floor losing consciousness very quickly. The entire incident last 26 seconds. Mr Abdulrahimzai had never met Thomas or James before. Neither posed any threat to him. Thomas who did nothing wrong that night at all. He was simply very unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and to meet Mr Abdulrahimzai.

Bournemouth Echo:
Bournemouth Echo:

"We know from the pathologist, Dr Jeffrey that Thomas suffered two stab wounds to the left side of his chest. Both penetrated about 10cm into his body. The higher one penetrated the ribcage and the diaphragm, cut the lower lobe of the left lung and the outer aspect of the heart. The lower one penetrated the abdomen, sliced the lower part of the left kidney and opened the left renal vein. No medical intervention could have saved Thomas from these two catastrophic wounds. He died of blood loss induced cardiac arrest in hospital soon after."

Psychiatric assessments

"I have had the benefit of two psychiatric reports from Dr Lucy Bacon and Dr Gauruv Malhan, who also gave evidence. Both agree that although Mr Abdulrahimzai has personality traits consistent with PTSD, these fall short of being sufficient to diagnose PTSD. He does have post-traumatic symptoms. Both agree that he would have suffered traumatic events in his childhood which have affected his personality development and created problems with emotional and behavioral regulation. Both suggest a diagnosis of a personality disorder, with borderline emotionally unstable and dissocial traits. This will lead to differences in his thinking and behaviour compared to the average person. Dr Bacon comments that this condition is not an illness but a description of personality, where patterns of thinking and behaviour lie outside the norm. She said that it would not significantly impair his ability to understand the nature of his actions or form a rational judgment. Dr Malhan said in his evidence that the personality disorder would make Mr Abdulrahimzai angry, and make him act impulsively. It may well mean that he would not think through the consequences of his actions. Both psychiatrists agree that the consumption of alcohol and cannabis would contribute to any such disinhibited behaviour.

"There can be no doubt as to the effect growing up in the horrors of Afghanistan would have on a young child. What continues to take place there is yet another tragedy, on a very large scale. Of course it has serious damaging effects upon the personality and behaviour of those who have lived through it. However, the court needs to be careful as to how it is taken into account in this case. I accept that Mr Abdulrahimzai’s past life experiences have left him very damaged. I accept that it has affected how he interacts with people and how he reacts to some situations. Overall I accept that this does have some affect upon his culpability. However, this can only be to a small extent. His personality difficulties cannot provide any sufficient explanation for his behaviour on 12th March culminating in his use of wholly unjustified extreme violence. I also take into account that great efforts had been made by the police and his foster parent to explain the dangers of knives to him."

Bournemouth Echo:
Bournemouth Echo:

'He went out seeking trouble'

"I sentence Mr Abdulrahimzai on my findings from the evidence and what is clear from the jury’s verdict. On 11th March Mr Abdulrahimzai went out onto the streets of Bournemouth armed with a large sheath knife. He went out knowing that he would pull it out and use it should the need arise. He then did not hide from conflict; he did not avoid situations which might place him at risk of becoming involved in violence. Quite the reverse as can be seen from his approach to the bearded man in argument with Alfie Goulty and the way in which he approached James Medway and Thomas Roberts. He went seeking trouble, with a knife in his belt. The 26-second argument that led to this tragedy was entirely of his own creation by the aggressive and threatening way he approached James Medway. Why he behaved in this way may, in part, be exacerbated by the effect of trauma during his life. But for the most part it is because that is just the way he is."

Sentencing process

"In a case of murder the only sentence available to me to pass is that of life imprisonment. In all but a very few cases of murder, the sentencing judge also has to pass the minimum term that a defendant has to serve before he can apply to the Parole Board for early release. This would be the earliest date at which Lawangeen Abdulrahimzai could apply for his release. There is no guarantee that he will be released by the Parole Board at this stage. It will depend upon whether they consider it safe to do so. If they do not consider it safe to release Mr Abdulrahimzai at that stage then he will not be released. If they never consider it safe to release him then he will never be released. If he is released at any stage, then he will remain on licence for the rest of his life subject to recall should there be any further concerns in relation to his behaviour.

"The starting point for the minimum term is set by statute. In relation to a case of this nature the agreed starting point is 25 years. I then have to assess any aggravating and mitigating features of the case which may affect that starting point. Some of these features are set down in statute but I am not limited to those alone."


"I sentence on the basis that Mr Abdulrahimzai had an intention to cause really serious harm and not to kill. However, I must also take into account that he inflicted two deep and fatal injuries. It was the use of extreme violence.

"I accept this particular attack was not premeditated by Mr Abdulrahimzai that night. However, I do need to consider that he went out armed with a knife, prepared to use it and was actively seeking conflict. For reasons set out below, this may affect this mitigation notwithstanding that it is the act of bringing a knife to the scene that gives this offence a 25 year starting point.

"Whatever diagnosis one choses to place upon Mr Abdulrahimzai’s personality, his traumatic life will have left him damaged which will have contributed in some way to what happened on 12th March. That needs to be taken into account to the extent that I have set out. Mr Abdulrahimzai will have seen things in his life that no one should have to see. And we do sometimes forget how lucky we are in this country that for decades we have not had to experience the true horrors of war.

"I have noted Mr Abdulrahimzai’s regret and remorse in this case. He expressed them in his evidence before the jury.

"He entered a guilty plea to manslaughter. From an early stage he accepted that he was responsible for Thomas Roberts’ death and was not acting in lawful self-defence. There may be some cases where specific credit should be given for a guilty plea to manslaughter notwithstanding a subsequent conviction for murder, however this is not such a case. The issue at trial was simply lack of intent. Ultimately it was his decision to have a trial. However, I can take his plea into account as supporting his remorse.

"He was 20 years old when he committed this offence. Although over 18, he was still very young."

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Bournemouth Echo:


"I sentence on the basis that Mr Abdulrahimzai was at all times the aggressor that night and by his behaviour created the situation that led to Thomas Roberts’ death. Over and above that, he was looking for trouble.

"Mr Abdulrahimzai does have previous convictions in other jurisdictions. The only matter that has relevance to sentence is his previous conviction for murder in Serbia."

Already a convicted murderer

"On 16th November 2020 Mr Abdulrahimzai was convicted of murdering two people in Serbia. From the facts as we have them, he shot two people dead with an automatic rifle. The offence took place on 31st July 2018, when Mr Abdulrahimzai would have been 16 years old. It would appear that it was in some way connected to the people trafficking business. He was tried in his absence. The case was appealed in his absence unsuccessfully in February 2021.

"I shall approach this matter as follows. I have to consider whether it makes any difference that this was a conviction in Mr Abdulrahimzai’s absence. In my judgment it does not . I have not heard any evidence to dispute the veracity of the conviction. It has followed due process in Serbia and there has been an appeal. I should proceed on the basis that it is a proper conviction and take it into account as is appropriate in this case. If there comes a time when Mr Abdulrahimzai returns to Serbia and is successful on appeal, then he can have the sentence I pass today reviewed by the Court of Appeal in the light of that change in circumstances.

"Usually a previous conviction for murder by a person under the age of 21 would raise the statutory starting point to 30 years, under the sentencing Act 2020, Schedule 21, s.3(1)(b). The increased starting point is due to this being “a murder by an offender previously convicted of murder”, as set out in Schedule 21, s.2(2)(e).

"By s.65(2) of the Sentencing Act 2020, in effect, the court must treat as an aggravating feature each “relevant previous conviction”. The definition of a “relevant previous conviction” is a conviction in the UK, or a conviction by a court under the law of “another member state”, that being a state that is a member of the European Union. Serbia has never been a member of the EU. All in court agree that this means the Serbian conviction does not fall with the definition of a relevant previous conviction such as would automatically bring it within Schedule 21, s.3(1)(b).

"However, that does not mean that I cannot take it into account as an aggravating feature. There is clear support for this from the Court of Appeal 2012 decision in Baxendale, at paragraph 72. It is highly relevant and I do take it into account as an aggravating feature.

"I have taken all the mitigating and aggravating features into account as set out above. I apply the statutory starting point of 25 years, but with reference to Schedule 21, s.3(1)(b), which takes account of his age. I also bear in mind that the 30-year starting point under Schedule 21, s.3(1)(b) applies for a second murder irrespective of whether a knife was brought to the scene, in other words, irrespective as to whether the starting point for the second murder on its own would have been 15 or 25 years. This is relevant to the issue of a lack of premeditation as a mitigating feature, as set out above. Ultimately, I must sentence form the specific facts of this case bearing in mind all the mitigating and aggravating features as they fit within the statutory framework of Schedule 21."

'Extreme, senseless violence'

"Lawangeen Abdulrahimzai – on 12th March 2022 you murdered Thomas Roberts, a man you had never met before. You spent 26 seconds of your life with him, at the end of which you stabbed him fatally twice to the chest with a large knife you routinely carried with you. You started the conflict, and throughout you were the threatening aggressor. In seconds you took the life of a thoroughly decent man, with a bright future who was loved greatly by so many people. Your momentary act of extreme, senseless violence has left a family with a tragic loss that they will feel for rest of their lives.

"You will go to prison for life. You will only be released when the Parole Board say it is safe for you to be released. I set the minimum term for your sentence, before you can apply for parole, as 29 years.

"From this will be deducted the 315 days which you have already spent in custody on remand awaiting trial. The statutory surcharge will apply."

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