Arsonist who killed two neighbours apologises in court and refers to Quran

An arsonist who killed two of his neighbours last year has apologised in court and said he felt compelled to plead guilty due to the teachings of the Quran.

Hakeem Kigundu, 32, admitted pouring petrol over the ground floor of Rowe Court in Reading, Berkshire, and igniting the blaze which killed Richard Burgess, 46, and Neil Morris, 45, on December 15 last year.

On Friday, dozens of survivors and bereaved relatives heard from Kigundu and his lawyer Rosina Cottage at Reading Crown Court.

Richard Burgess was killed in a fire ignited by Hakeem Kigundu in Rowe Court, Reading on December 15 last year (Thames Valley Police/PA).
Richard Burgess was killed in a fire ignited by Hakeem Kigundu (Thames Valley Police/PA).

Before Kigundu rose to speak, several residents and relatives left the courtroom and proceedings paused as another left while fighting back tears as Ms Cottage outlined the defence case.

Kigundu, a Ugandan national who is thought to have entered the UK illegally using his brother’s passport, said he had been contemplating suicide but “decided against it” in the moments before he ignited the fire.

He said: “I was approached by Mr Webb (a Rowe Court resident) and I’m not sure what he said, but it enraged me and I lit the flame.

“Shortly after, I made my way to the police station and turned myself in.

“I want to point out that at no time did I try to hinder justice.”

Neil Morris was killed in a fire ignited by Hakeem Kigundu in Rowe Court, Reading on December 15 last year (Thames Valley Police/PA).
Neil Morris was killed in the fire last December (Thames Valley Police/PA).

He added: “When I say I’m sorry it’s not because I’m getting sentenced.

“I believe actions speak louder than words and punishment is the path to forgiveness and redemption.

“According to the Quran, injustice is one of the worst sins we can commit, which is why I pleaded guilty and took full responsibility for my actions.”

Kigundu’s defence lawyer, Rosina Cottage, said he had become “isolated” and “paranoid”, and argued that a “chilling” voicenote he recorded in the days before may not have been about the attack.

The court previously heard Kigundu’s audio “diary” from December 9, in which he appeared to state his intention to cause the “death” of his neighbours, some of whom had complained about his antisocial behaviour in the block.

Ms Cottage said: “That voicenote, which is chilling and frightening and relied upon often by the Crown – what they say is the inevitable conclusion is taking it a step too far.

“(In the voicenote) he is clearly contemplating his own death.

“It isn’t clear, but it is clear that he is not thinking in a way that right-minded, calm, rational people think.”

Joel Richards suffered burns on his face, head, and hand during the Rowe Court fire (Thames Valley Police/PA).
Joel Richards suffered burns on his face, head, and hand during the Rowe Court fire (Thames Valley Police/PA).

Along with causing the deaths of Mr Burgess and Mr Morris, two residents were also seriously injured in the fire, and 24 homes were destroyed.

Joel Richards, who was present in court, suffered third-degree burns, while Laura Wiggins was left with a punctured lung, a kidney hematoma and fractures to her ribs, right arm and spine.

Kigundu pleaded guilty on September 20 to two counts of murder, two counts of causing grievous bodily harm and one count of arson with intent to endanger life.

He is due to be sentenced by Mr Justice Holgate later on Friday.