'Wicked' mother jailed for life for murdering 20-month-old daughter

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A "wicked and selfish" mother has been jailed for life for murdering her 20-month-old daughter over a bitter custody battle.

Angela Whitworth, 44, used a black bin liner to smother Sarah Dahane at her home in Herald Way, Bicester, Oxfordshire, on May 15, 2013.

Having already booked her ticket before the murder, she then took a flight to Nairobi in Kenya the day before the little girl's body was discovered.

Earlier this year, she was held by police in Uganda and brought back to Britain, where she admitted murder.

She was sentenced by Mr Justice Spencer at the Old Bailey to life with a minimum term of 15 years.

The judge told Whitworth: "You killed her because you believed the family court was not going to let you take her to Kenya to live with you there, but instead was going to let her reside with her father in their country. It was a thoroughly wicked and selfish act."

The court heard how the care assistant had been brought up in Kenya as part of a "caring and loving family from a distinguished tribe".

Whitworth, who admitted to being dishonest and manipulative, came to Britain on a student visa in 1996 and married as a means of staying in the country and divorced four years later.

In 2006, she met Sarah's father, Moroccan national Nabil Dahane, through internet dating and they married a year later.

Mr Justice Spencer described how she had set her heart on becoming a mother and when Sarah was born in September 2011, she was "a much-loved and much-wanted child".

He went on: "It is quite clear, however, that you developed an all-consuming desire to take Sarah with you to Kenya to start a new life there."

The judge said proceedings in the family court were "bitterly contested" and the strains took their toll on Whitworth, who was prescribed anti-depressants.

On the day of the killing, Whitworth received a report from a court-appointed guardian ahead of a scheduled final hearing on the case.

It recommended that Sarah stay with her father if she went to Kenya, or the parents be given a joint residence order if Whitworth stayed in the UK.

Just over an hour after receiving the report, Whitworth called Kenya Airways to book her flight and Sarah could be heard in the background.

The judge said Whitworth killed her daughter some time after the call by holding a bag over her head until she stopped breathing.

He said: "There is no evidence of injury, although she would surely have struggled.

"She must have been terrified and bewildered in her last moments of life. You left her body lying among the bed clothes and made your escape."

Fearing that Whitworth had abducted Sarah, Mr Dahane alerted police, who discovered the body, the court heard.

The judge said: "One can only imagine the desolation and distress Sarah's father must have felt on discovering that his beautiful, precious daughter was dead at the hands of her own mother.

"It is clear that Sarah was a delightful little girl with her whole life stretching before her.

"However strongly you felt about the way the justice system was likely to treat you when the custody case came to court, you knew perfectly well you have no right to end her life as you did."

Having reached east Africa, Whitworth went into hiding, created a new life for herself by changing her name and moving to Uganda, before being brought back to Britain.

He told the defendant that hers was a "complete betrayal" of her responsibility as a mother.

He said: "Whether or not you genuinely intended to kill yourself as well, I am driven to the conclusion that your attitude was that if you were not going to be able to have Sarah, no-one would have her."

Whitworth made no reaction as she was sent down to begin her sentence.

Outside court, Sarah's father Mr Dahane said: "She was my only child and I was devoted to her.

"She meant the world to me, still does and always will.

"No words can describe how beautiful and precious she was to me. Justice has been done for my daughter Sarah."

Senior investigating officer Detective Superintendent Ian Hunter, of Thames Valley Police, said: "This has been a complex and challenging investigation and we have worked tirelessly for more than three years to ensure Angela Whitworth has been brought to court to establish the truth of what happened on May 15.

"Whitworth had admitted murdering her daughter in an act which I truly believe was needless, selfish and wicked.

"Thames Valley Police received extensive support from colleagues in Uganda, Interpol, National Crime Agency and Crown Prosecution Service to allow the international operation to arrest Whitworth in Uganda.

"I would like to thank everyone who has been involved throughout this investigation. I would also like to thank the thousands of people who viewed and shared our Facebook video.

"During the appeal, I said Sarah has not and will not be forgotten. She hasn't been.

"I hope that Sarah's father Nabil and all those who knew and loved Sarah will now be able to move forward from this tragic point in their lives."