'Top of the class' Durham University graduate jailed for murdering high-class escort on her birthday

A high-class escort bludgeoned to death with a pestle by a Durham University graduate would have suffered "unimaginable" terror in the final moments of her life, a judge has said.

Friday, 21st December 2018, 12:58 pm
Updated Friday, 21st December 2018, 13:03 pm
Zahid Naseem

Christine Abbotts was struck 13 times to the back of the head with the ceramic kitchen utensil on her 29th birthday in a flat in Crawley, West Sussex, in May.

Financial consultant Zahid Naseem was jailed for at least 19 years on Friday after he was convicted of murder over the brutal and prolonged killing.

Christine Abbotts.

"Your attack was of extraordinary ferocity," Judge Christine Laing said as she passed sentence in Lewes Crown Court.

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"When I consider the extent of the injuries, you inflicted considerable pain.

"The terror of her final moments in life is unimaginable."

In his testimony, Naseem, 48, said he struck Ms Abbotts in self-defence, fearing he was being strangled in a sex game gone wrong.

But the jury rejected this and found him guilty after a trial that was at times harrowing for Ms Abbotts' family.

Born in the West Midlands and educated at Oxford Brookes University, Ms Abbotts was remembered by her parents as a "caring", "happy" and popular young woman.

Her relatives and friends believed she worked in IT although she had secretly worked as a high-class escort in London, charging clients thousands of pounds.

She was described at trial as a "socialite" who mixed with "posh" and wealthy friends, often visiting the polo, theatre and Royal Ascot.

Naseem enlisted her services after spotting her profile on AdultWork.com under the pseudonym Tilly Pexton.

She described herself as a well-spoken city girl with the "face of an angel".

Judge Laing suggested Ms Abbotts' line of work put her at a greater risk of harm.

"She had chosen to earn her money in a business that is as old as time," she said.

"And one that has always carried with it huge risks of danger, as this case sadly demonstrated."

A Sussex Police detective, however, said Ms Abbotts should have been safe and no one was to blame but her killer.

"The only person responsible for Christina's death is Mr Naseem," Detective Chief Inspector Emma Heater said on Thursday.

"Many jobs carry risks where you have to meet and deal with strangers."

In a statement to the court, the family of Ms Abbotts said she was the "love of our lives".

"Christina, our petite, happy and well-educated daughter," her father Michael Abbotts said in a victim impact statement read by prosecutor Christopher Tehrani.

"We will miss her coming home to visit us as she always managed to brighten up our lives, always happy and positive."

The court heard Naseem, who lived in a £600,000 home in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, was addicted to alcohol, drugs and sex.

The father of two young children turned to escorts when the "whirlwind romance" with his partner fizzled out, he said.

For nearly a decade he hired sex workers, drank on an almost daily basis and took cocaine, saying this behaviour was common in the financial district.

He studied economics at the University of Durham and was "top of the class", gaining sponsorship for his degree from Sainsbury's.

He worked with Merrill Lynch for 10 years, earning up to £250,000 a year, but became a freelance consultant in 2012 because he found the job stressful.

Since January he had worked for Toronto-Dominion Bank's London office but may have been struggling with debt, the court heard.

He met Ms Abbotts on the evening of May 24 in Crawley before spending the night with her.

Friends became worried when she failed to turn up to her birthday party in South Kensington the next day.

Police broke down the door of the flat and found Ms Abbotts' body, killed 12 hours earlier.

Naseem was lying on a sofa in only a dressing gown, surrounded by half-drunk glasses of alcohol and underwear.

He was pretending to be unconscious, paramedics thought.

Defence lawyer Lewis Power QC said Naseem in his prime had achieved "high status" as a risk analyst.

"He's now fallen from grace in the most dramatic of manners."

Naseem was jailed for life with a minimum term of 19 years.