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Armed robbery ringleader guilty of murdering police officer Sharon Beshenivsky 20 years ago

Sharon Beshenivsky and her colleague PC Teresa Milburn were shot at point-blank range (PA )
Sharon Beshenivsky and her colleague PC Teresa Milburn were shot at point-blank range (PA )

The mastermind behind an armed robbery that ended in police officer Sharon Beshenivsky being shot dead almost 20 years ago has been found guilty of her murder.

Piran Ditta Khan was on Thursday convicted of murdering PC Beshenivsky, who was shot dead while interrupting a raid at family-run Universal Express travel agents in Bradford, West Yorkshire, in November 2005.

She and her colleague PC Teresa Milburn were shot at point-blank range by one of the three men who had carried out the robbery as he emerged from the business.

Two months later, Khan fled the country for Pakistan, where he remained until he was arrested in 2020 and extradited back to the UK last year to stand trial.

The 75-year-old is the last of seven men to be convicted for their roles in the crime, with Khan said to be the group’s ringleader who had orchestrated the plot. Six of the robbers had already been convicted years ago for their various roles on the day.

Piran Ditta Khan, 75, who has been found guilty of murder at Leeds Crown Court (PA)
Piran Ditta Khan, 75, who has been found guilty of murder at Leeds Crown Court (PA)

Although he did not leave the safety of a lookout car during the raid, he played a “pivotal” role in planning it and knew that loaded firearms were to be used.

He was also the only one of the group who was familiar with Universal Express and had used them in the past to send money to family in Pakistan, the court heard.

Khan had denied the murder charge, and claimed the business’s owner, Mohammad Yousaf, owed him £12,000 and that debt collector Hassan Razzaq offered to get his money back after the pair met through a business associate.

Khan, a former doorman, said he thought the men Razzaq sent would “intimidate” the staff at Universal Express, or at worst, “slap them”, and that he had no knowledge an armed robbery was due to take place.

The interior of Universal Express where the robbery took place in 2005 (West Yorkshire Police/PA Wire)
The interior of Universal Express where the robbery took place in 2005 (West Yorkshire Police/PA Wire)

However, jurors heard Khan, who was living in Enfield, north London, at the time, was driven to Yorkshire by Razzaq on a reconnaissance trip five days before the raid.

The day before the robbery, they travelled up again to a “safe house” in Leeds where they spent the night.

Francois Baron, who was working on renovating the house, later told police he had heard the robbers discussing the plot in one of the bedrooms.

Mr Baron said he heard gunman Muzzaker Shah asking Khan: “Uncle, is it safe?” Khan was said to have replied: “Yes, it’s safe. Genuine.”

Jurors heard Shah asked: “How much can we get?” and Khan replied: “Minimum £50,000, maximum target 100 grand.”

Image of the Toyota Rav 4 connected to the robbery of the Universal Express travel agents in Bradford (PA)
Image of the Toyota Rav 4 connected to the robbery of the Universal Express travel agents in Bradford (PA)

Prosecutors said the three robbers who were to go into Universal Express then changed into smart clothing, telling jurors this was because Khan knew they would have to appear “respectable” in order for staff to let them in through the electronically locked door.

In three cars, the group then drove in convoy to Bradford, where Muzzaker Shah and brothers Yusuf Jama and Mustaf Jama went into the travel agents posing as customers.

After initially asking about plane tickets, the three men jumped over the counter and started demanding money, striking several of the staff with their weapons, tying their hands and threatening to “shoot the youngest” if they did not hand over cash.

The group demanded £100,000, later saying they would not leave with less than £50,000, jurors heard.

Khan’s fingerprints were found on a wardrobe at a safe house in Harehills Lane which was used by the robbers (West Yorkshire Police/PA Wire)
Khan’s fingerprints were found on a wardrobe at a safe house in Harehills Lane which was used by the robbers (West Yorkshire Police/PA Wire)

Waqas Yousaf, Mohammad Yousaf’s son, told the robbers they did not have that kind of money and managed to press an alarm which alerted the police.

PC Beshenivsky and PC Milburn, who were about to finish their shift, responded to the alert, the trial was told.

The robbers shouted “the Feds are here” before fleeing with around £5,400, with one of them gunning down the officers as they approached the doors of Universal Express.

PC Beshenivsky, 38, who had three children and two step-children, was shot on her youngest daughter’s fourth birthday and had only been an officer for nine months when she died from her injuries.

PC Milburn, who survived being shot in the chest, told police the pair “didn’t have a chance” to get away from the gunman, and that they would have run away if he had given them any warning.

The safe house used by the group to plan and execute the armed robbery (West Yorkshire Police/PA Wire)
The safe house used by the group to plan and execute the armed robbery (West Yorkshire Police/PA Wire)

Khan was convicted of murder by a majority of 10-1 after 11 jurors deliberated for almost 19 hours over four days.

He was also found guilty of two counts of possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, also by a majority of 10-1. He was unanimously convicted of two counts of possession of a prohibited weapon while he had pleaded guilty to robbery.

Detective Superintendent Marc Bowes of West Yorkshire Police said: “Today as always our thoughts remain with PC Sharon Beshenivsky and her family. Sharon went to work to protect the public, she responded to a call for help alongside her colleague Teresa but tragically never came home.

“This verdict is the culmination of 18 years of hard work, tenacious grit and determination to bring Khan before the courts.”