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Three guilty of ‘sadistic’ murder of vulnerable woman

Shakira Spencer, pictured in 2007 (Metropolitan Police/PA)
Shakira Spencer, pictured in 2007 (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Two women and a man have been found guilty of murdering a vulnerable woman who was tortured, starved and battered to death.

Shakira Spencer died after falling under the influence of her former neighbour Ashana Studholme, 38, her lover Shaun Pendlebury, 26, and their friend Lisa Richardson, 44.

The defendants, from west London, “treated her like a slave”, scalded her feet and fed her only ketchup from sachets, the Old Bailey was told.

The 35-year-old went from being a “beautiful, happy, healthy” size 16 to a “gaunt and skeletal” size six shortly before her death, jurors heard.

Last September, her badly decomposed body was found after neighbours saw maggots coming from her flat in Ealing, west London.

The three defendants had denied murder and preventing Ms Spencer’s lawful burial.

On Monday, a jury found all three defendants guilty of both charges against them and Pendlebury reacted by clapping his hands and walking out of the dock.

Previously, jurors heard how Ms Spencer had been subdued and dominated mainly by Studholme and Richardson to the point where she was under all of their “complete control”.

Over many months, she was isolated, prostituted and robbed of her self-respect and finances, it was claimed.

She would be woken up in the early hours to clean the defendants’ houses and sent on errands to the shops.

Prosecutor Allison Hunter KC said: “In early 2021 Shakira Spencer had been a healthy – even voluptuous – size 16 weighing some 74kgs (11st 9lb).

“By July 2022 Shakira Spencer was just skin and bone. Gaunt and skeletal, bruised from head to foot, with hollowed black eyes. She was barely a scrawny size six in images taken by the defendants just before she died.

“For whatever was their unfathomable, cruel, sadistic motive, these three defendants tormented, tortured, starved, burned and eventually battered Shakira Spencer to death.”

Shakira Spencer court case
Shakira Spencer, pictured last year, was found dead in Ealing, west London, on September 25 2022 (Met Police/PA)

The abuse reached a “frenzied climax” on around September 11 and 12 last year when Ms Spencer was beaten “to the brink of death” at Studholme’s home, the jury was told.

She was bundled into the boot of Pendlebury’s borrowed Honda Civic car and driven back to her flat, where she was locked in a hallway cupboard, it was claimed.

Ms Hunter said ice was packed around Ms Spencer in a primitive bid to slow decomposition.

Newspapers were carefully laid on the floor next to the bed as if Ms Spencer had been reading and died in her sleep, jurors heard.

An alternative plan to dispose of the body in a caravan was abandoned because the defendants could not risk moving her due to the state of decomposition, it was suggested.

As part of the cover-up, the defendants cleaned the victim’s blood, bodily fluids and DNA from their homes and removed all traces of their presence from Ms Spencer’s flat.

Ms Hunter said: “It was only when neighbours saw maggots crawling out from under her door that the police were called to Shakira’s address on Sunday September 25 2022 and the painstaking investigation which ensued revealed in detail what they had done.”

A pathologist was unable to identify exactly how Ms Spencer died due to the poor condition of her body.

A post-mortem examination found crushing injuries to her ear, cuts to her scalp and scalding wounds to her feet, jurors were told.

Giving evidence, Pendlebury said he found Ms Spencer in a “bad way” inside a cupboard and gave her soup.

Pendlebury said he only found out Ms Spencer had died when Studholme called him.

Richardson blamed Pendlebury for what happened and Studholme declined to give evidence in her defence.

A lawyer for Studholme pointed out “evidential nails” that “crucified” both of her co-accused’s cases.

Jurors heard Studholme had three previous convictions for assaulting women in Edinburgh and London as well as multiple shoplifting offences.

She also received a caution for the neglect of a child who fell from a flat roof while playing in a paddling pool unattended.

Pendlebury had previous convictions for drugs offences, handling stolen goods and assaulting two police officers while Richardson had one conviction for cultivating cannabis.

Following the guilty verdicts, Judge Angela Rafferty KC adjourned sentencing to a later date.

Jurors had deliberated for nearly 18 hours to reach verdicts and were excused by the judge from jury service for life due to the “harrowing nature” of the case.

Devi Kharran, senior Crown prosecutor, said: “Evidence presented during the trial proved that Pendlebury, Studholme and Richardson exercised twisted and sadistic control of Shakira Spencer over an extended period. They spun a web of lies in every effort to hide their actions.

“The CPS built a strong case against them using video footage filmed by the defendants themselves, mobile phone evidence, forensic analysis, and a confession from Shaun Pendlebury himself to prove beyond doubt that they were responsible for her death.

“The level of suffering that Shakira endured is simply unimaginable. Our thoughts remain with all of Shakira’s family and friends.  I hope this conviction brings them some sense of justice.”

Senior Investigating Officer Detective Chief Inspector Brian Howie, from Scotland Yard, said Ms Spencer was murdered in “the most savage and inhumane way imaginable”.

He said: “Shakira was a beautiful, happy mother who was kind and had a trusting nature.

“Shakira could be vulnerable and these defendants took advantage of that by controlling and isolating her from everyone she knew in order to control and enslave her in the most dehumanising and degrading way.”

The defendants lied and gave “implausible accounts” in a bid to absolve themselves of responsibility, he said.

Mr Howie said: “Whatever their cruel and sadistic motives were, there is no acceptable explanation for what Shakira was put through.

“This was a complex and challenging investigation. A meticulous timeline was created to pull together the different strands of evidence, paralleled against each other, in order to prove the defendants’ campaign of controlling behaviour and violence.

“This included the retrieval and viewing of thousands of hours of CCTV, extensive forensic examinations, pathology, witness accounts, searching of houses and vehicles and reviewing the defendants’ phones.

“That examination revealed what Shakira had been subjected to, with footage, messages and voice notes recorded by the defendants themselves that would prove key.”