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A man has been jailed for life for murdering a woman while she slept on the steps of a church.

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Kieran Rifat, 22 (09.06.98), of no fixed address, was handed his prison sentence after he cruelly attacked 41-year-old Kelly Stewart, who had been sheltering on the steps outside Memorial Community Church on Barking Road.

The Old Bailey heard how Rifat initially observed Kelly in the early hours of 26 March last year as she slept. He then approached Kelly at approximately 01:00hrs and, without any provocation, beat her and stamped on her. He then he hid her body in a side alley.

It was only when a member of the public visited the church at approximately 15:10hrs the same day and saw blood stains that they raised the alarm and called police.

A murder investigation was launched. A post-mortem examination found that Kelly had died from multiple head and facial injuries.

Due to national lockdown and reduced footfall in the area there were no witnesses and, by the time Kelly was discovered, several hours had passed. No one was identified as having a motive to hurt Kelly, which meant that there were no immediate suspects.

Members of the Met’s MIT8 team, of the Specialist Crime North command, undertook an intensive CCTV trawl but much of the footage was of poor quality.

One officer spotted someone at the scene wearing a distinctive striped hooded top. Although the suspect had tried to cover this top, it could still be partially seen.

Because of this they were able to track the suspect’s movements throughout the area which showed him going to and from the church.

Following multiple door to door enquiries, tracing and speaking to potential witnesses and associates, some key information was provided that enabled officers to identify the man in the hooded top as Rifat.

He was known to Kelly via a homeless community outreach centre. But there was no known history between the pair to suggest Rifat had motive or cause to attack her.

One of the Met’s proactive teams identified and arrested Rifat on the street on 1 April 2020. A warrant was executed at an address on Queens Road in Barking the following day.

In the property, officers discovered some of his bloodied clothes in the bath including the distinctive stripped top, and in the kitchen his jeans, which had been freshly laundered.

He was interviewed but declined to make any comment to all questions put to him and provided no defence for his actions.

He pleaded guilty on 23 December 2020, at the Old Bailey to murder. He was sentenced on Thursday, 4 February and will have to serve a minimum of 17 years and 88 days, owing to his time already spent in custody, before he can be considered for release.

Detective Inspector Darren Jones, from the Met’s Specialist Crime North team, said: “I have been a detective for years and investigated many violent cases, but Rifat’s attack truly did shock myself and the team with his mindless, wilful cruelty.

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