As he recalls the day his wife Sana was brutally killed in their family home, Imtiaz Muhammad’s shoulders slump and his eyes fill with tears.
The barely believable circumstances of Sana’s murder at the hands of her violent ex-husband – and carried out in front of her terrified children – are seared into his memory.
Sana, who was eight months pregnant with her sixth child, was shot at close range with a crossbow as she fled in terror.
The 18in arrow caused catastrophic internal injuries but, miraculously, spared the life of her unborn son by millimetres.
Sana, who was eight months pregnant with her sixth child, was shot at close range with a crossbow as she fled in terror. Who among us, after all, can honestly say that, confronted by an armed assailant intent on murder, would have the strength and wherewithal to act with heroism?
The tragedy, a year ago, appalled the nation. But what lingers most for Imtiaz today – indeed, what will torment him for ever – is the overwhelming guilt he feels at his failure to save his wife that day.
Chillingly, just moments before the attack, Imtiaz had come face-to-face with Sana’s killer, Ramanodge Unmathallegadoo – known as Ram – who had hidden in the couple’s garden shed as he prepared to carry out his deadly assault.
Imtiaz recalls his cold smile before he raised one of two loaded crossbows and pointed it directly at his throat. And it is what happened next that Imtiaz, a builder, struggles to comprehend today.
He froze with fear, he confesses. Then he fled – through the house and out the front door into the street, all the while screaming for his wife to follow. Tragically, Sana made the fatal decision to flee upstairs instead, towards her children.
Originally from Pakistan, Imtiaz Muhammad, pictured above, met Sana in 2011 when her relationship with Unmathallegadoo was already in turmoil
It meant Imtiaz found himself helplessly alone on the street outside, unaware of the horror inside the house, and too paralysed by the thought of Unmathallegadoo’s deadly weapons to venture back towards his wife and children.
The knowledge of his inaction still tortures Imtiaz to this day. But it is impossible not to feel sympathy.
Who among us, after all, can honestly say that, confronted by an armed assailant intent on murder, would have the strength and wherewithal to act with heroism?
It is, in fact, with courageous honesty that Imtiaz speaks for the first time since the tragedy to The Mail on Sunday.
He describes how his guilt plunged him into a deep depression – he is a broken man, torn apart by the loss of his beloved soulmate.
He has also found himself the lone father of six children, including the precious son who survived the assault against all odds.
‘My reaction when I first saw Ram? I was frozen, completely blank,’ he says, quietly. ‘I didn’t know what I should say to him. I stayed there in the shed for 15 seconds and then I started running towards the house. But if at any stage I could have stood up to him, I could have saved Sana.
‘If I only closed the kitchen door behind me, then she would have been saved. Or if I just spoke to Ram, maybe she could have been saved. My mind, my brain didn’t work that time.
‘That’s the regret I am living with, that’s why I went into depression afterwards. It’s the biggest regret of my life. She was my soulmate. She was everything to me, she was my companion, she was my friend. Life was so lovely.’
Last week, Unmathallegadoo, 51, was found guilty at the Old Bailey of Sana’s murder. The verdict was unanimous and sentence will be passed on Friday.
He has torn the heart out of the family, Imtiaz says from the comfortable home the couple and their children shared in Ilford, East London. It is here where she was killed.
Where the memories of her – and of that day – remain impossible to ignore. But he cannot bring himself to leave. Nor can he bring himself to forgive Unmathallegadoo.
Chillingly, just moments before the attack, Imtiaz had come face-to-face with Sana’s killer, Ramanodge Unmathallegadoo – known as Ram – who had hidden in the couple’s garden shed as he prepared to carry out his deadly assault
For this was no impulse crime, one borne out of a moment of madness. Instead, he reveals, it was far more sinister, a hatred which had been simmering for years.
Originally from Pakistan, Imtiaz met Sana in 2011 when her relationship with Unmathallegadoo was already in turmoil.
Theirs was an arranged marriage, orchestrated by their families in their native Mauritius when Sana was just 15 and he was 31.
The couple went on to have three children but Unmathallegadoo turned out to be moody and controlling, and there were frequent, intense arguments.
Imtiaz was building an extension at their neighbour’s home in East Ham and struck up a friendship with the couple.
Unmathallegadoo sought Imtiaz’s advice when his marriage hit a rocky patch and he was called on as an intermediary, even carrying out building work on a second property the couple owned in Ilford.
Later, Unmathallegadoo became increasingly violent, occasionally threatening Sana with knives.
But things truly came to a head when he tried to strangle her – only pulling away when their children intervened. Sana managed to flee through a bedroom window, breaking her ankle as she did so.
Unmathallegadoo was arrested and made the subject of a restraining order, banning him from coming within 100 yards of the house.
Sana launched divorce proceedings and her relationship with Imtiaz blossomed into love.
Once her divorce was finalised in 2014, the couple married in a traditional Islamic ceremony after Sana agreed to convert from her Hindu faith.
Adding to the three children Sana had with Unmathallegadoo, the couple had two more of their own and, in 2018, Sana became pregnant with her sixth child.
Unmathallegadoo, meanwhile, had disappeared from their lives.
Last week, Unmathallegadoo, 51, was found guilty at the Old Bailey of Sana’s murder. The verdict was unanimous and sentence will be passed on Friday. He has torn the heart out of the family, Imtiaz says from the comfortable home the couple and their children shared in Ilford, East London
‘After four years, life became very beautiful,’ Imtiaz says. ‘I had kids, financially I was OK. Everything was perfect. Sana was a very loving person, she was talkative – she did not like to be ignored. She also did a lot for others. I have never seen a mother like that. She was so loving towards her kids.’
But Unmathallegadoo’s resentment had not faded. Rather, he was plotting his revenge – Sana’s worst fear.
‘Sana would say, “Ram never forgets or forgives. If he gets any chance to harm me, he will,”’ says Imtiaz.
Then, in the middle of last year, Unmathallegadoo’s three children spotted their father lingering at the school gates.
At first, he gave them all the ‘death stare’, Imtiaz says. But gradually Unmathallegadoo began to talk to them.
Despite their concerns, Imtiaz and Sana agreed it was good that Unmathallegadoo appeared to be finally taking an interest.
They allowed him to take his children on trips after school and at the weekend. But their suspicions were aroused when he began bad-mouthing Sana.
‘He would tell the children their mum ruined everything. This went on for about six months,’ Imtiaz recalls.
Sana spoke to the police about her concerns but – without any specific crime to report – she was told there was nothing they could do.
In fact, her instincts were correct. The Met Police investigation into her murder later revealed that Unmathallegadoo had sinister motives for seeing his children.
All the while, he was collecting information on the family’s habits and movements and surveilling the property.
The Old Bailey would later hear that he bought a crossbow on the internet for £1,000, then another. He also purchased archery arrows, bolts, duct tape and knives, all from online retailers such as eBay.
A month before the murder, Sana’s daughter said her father had asked if they locked their garden shed.
The answer was no – and on November 12, 2018, Unmathallegadoo’s plan was ready. He entered the shed with two loaded crossbows, poised for his attack.
That day, Sana had risen at 6am to start cooking for guests the family were expecting for lunch.
She and Imtiaz had carried out their morning prayers and Sana then asked her husband to place the large cardboard box that had contained their new 51in TV in the shed before he set off for work.
Imtiaz had just placed the box on the left side of the shed when he raised his head and locked eyes with Unmathallegadoo, standing a few feet away. It was the first time the pair had met in six years.
The Old Bailey would later hear that he bought a crossbow on the internet for £1,000, then another. He also purchased archery arrows, bolts, duct tape and knives, all from online retailers such as eBay
‘He had a smile on his face. He pointed the crossbow at me, at my throat. He had another crossbow on his right shoulder.’
Imtiaz froze, the horror of the situation racing through his mind. Then he decided to run, heading towards the house, screaming at his wife to ‘run, run, run’. Sana, washing dishes, must have been filled with terror at the sight of her ex-husband, armed with a crossbow, charging towards the house.
Her first instinct, though, was to protect her children. As Imtiaz burst through the house and out of the front door into the street, assuming his wife would follow, she fled up the stairs.
Unmathallegadoo discharged the weapon upwards to where she stood, poised to cross the upstairs landing. The 18in arrow pierced her hip, travelling up through her stomach and impaling many of her vital organs, including her liver and heart.
From the street, Imtiaz heard his wife gasp and the sound of the children shouting, ‘Get out, get out! What are you doing?’
‘There was this sharp intake of breath. That was too much for me,’ he says, his eyes filling with tears.
‘That noise will haunt me until the day I am no longer alive. I hear it in my dreams and I have these nightmares where I see myself fighting shadowy people I cannot recognise. Most of the time I see myself fighting Ram. My mind was blank at the time but I still wonder what pain she must have felt when she was hit.’
For several minutes, Imtiaz cannot speak, covering his face with his hands. ‘I was completely frozen,’ he says, eventually.
‘I was terrified he would target me with the second crossbow. I began screaming for the neighbours, calling for help.’
He now knows that Unmathallegadoo had dropped the second crossbow and that – in the end – it was Unmathallegadoo’s 18-year-old son who wrestled the weapon from his father and pinned him against the wall. This fact is hard for Imtiaz to confront or even discuss.
‘I wish I had done that,’ he says, simply, ‘but before he shot Sana.’
Unmathallegadoo was arrested when he walked out of the house, arms held aloft.
Meeting his newborn son in intensive care was heart-rending, particularly when he learned that Sana never had the chance to see him. But the resemblance to his mother was uncanny
Glancing at Imtiaz, his only words were a sarcastic: ‘You OK?’ Imtiaz was finally able to race into the house with paramedics. There, he found Sana in their bedroom, still conscious, kissing and hugging their 18-month-old daughter, despite writhing in agony.
Imtiaz wrongly assumed she had been shot in the leg, and – despite knowing her injuries were serious – was not unduly concerned when she was rushed to the Royal London Hospital.
A nurse informed him she was conscious and talking and that they would have to perform a caesarean.
‘I said, “Why don’t you save Sana first?” but she said they needed to take the baby out before they could access the arrow.’
It was the first inkling that her condition was far more serious than he had realised. Twenty minutes later, a policeman delivered the terrible news.
‘He said, “The good news is you have a baby boy. He is OK. The bad news is your wife has died.” I started crying, screaming. I didn’t feel the ground under my feet. I thought everything was a dream.’
Meeting his newborn son in intensive care was heart-rending, particularly when he learned that Sana never had the chance to see him. But the resemblance to his mother was uncanny. ‘I saw him and started crying and kissing him. I looked at him and said, “This is Sana.” ’
A year on, the family now have justice. Imtiaz has still not discussed with Unmathallegadoo’s three children – his own step-children – the fact that their father faces the prospect of life in jail.
‘I was happy at the decision,’ he says, ‘but what can I say to them? My wife can’t come back. Those children have no mother or father. Their lives have been destroyed.’
There is, at least, no fear that Unmathallegadoo will be freed to come after the rest of the family. And as Imtiaz knows, his worst punishment may yet be to come.
‘I can’t forgive him, but I can’t take revenge. God, he is the best to take revenge,’ he says.