By the time Christmas Eve of 2014 finally came around, Sameena Imam couldn’t help but feel a little excited. The 34-year-old was busy preparing for the festive days that were to follow, and as she popped out of the office – to grab the final few bits from Marks and Spencer: a bottle of Bellini and a tub of sweet treats – her plan was finally coming together.
Since the start of their relationship, Roger Cooper – Sameena’s colleague and lover – had been leading a double life. With a long-term partner at home, Sameena was stuck playing second fiddle. That Christmas, everything was set to change. The pair would spend Christmas Day at Birmingham’s Malmaison Hotel, and by the start of 2015 they would, finally, be officially together. All Sameena wanted for Christmas was the man she loved, and this year she was finally going to get him. At least, that was what she was promised.
However, while Sameena had been getting everything ready to start a new life, Roger and his brother, David, had been preparing to take hers. By 6:30PM on Christmas Eve, Sameena Imam would be dead. The hotel room she had booked sitting empty, as the Cooper brothers set about covering up her callous murder.
This tragic story begins at a Costco store on the outskirts of Coventry. It was here that 41-year-old Roger worked as a manager, as did Sameena – a regional marketing boss for a handful of the multinational's nearby locations. Relationships between senior members of staff were very much against the rules, but this hadn’t stopped Roger and Sameena. They spent two years entangled in a workplace love affair, but Sameena had begun to get restless. She gave Roger an ultimatum in the run-up to the holiday season: leave your long-term girlfriend, or it's over. And Roger obliged.
During a ten-week trial, which ended on the 20th of October 2015, prosecution counsel Timothy Spencer QC told the court that Roger had brazenly lied to Sameena. Roger never had any intention of leaving his partner. He feared Sameena would spill the beans on their affair, which in his mind would jeopardise both his career and his other relationship. Rather than face up to the consequences of his actions, Roger enlisted the help of ex-soldier David, and together they set about planning to kill Sameena in cold blood. While Roger had a motive for the murder, however twisted, it remains a mystery why his brother was willing to kill a woman he barely knew.
Their first attempt on her life was planned for the early hours of the 12th of December, 2014. Sameena was a regular guest at Solihull’s Premier Inn, and that night – following a Christmas party – she planned to sleep there. Roger had told Sameena to meet him at the hotel where, he claimed, he had booked a room and had a "surprise" for her.
The surprise, it transpired, was that no room had been booked, and Roger wasn’t going to be there. Meanwhile, brother David sat in a hire car in the carpark, ready and waiting to abduct her. The brothers communicated using Star Wars codes: "Death Star Complete"; "Stay on Target Stay on Target, you are expected Vader".
The plan failed, although what went wrong is still unclear to detectives. Sameena made her way safely into the hotel from her taxi. David sent a text to his brother in broken French, which translated to, "There’s no point, no score. The window [of opportunity] is closed."
And so, just 12 days later, the brothers took aim once again. At 4PM on Christmas Eve, Sameena left work just after Roger – each driving off in their separate cars. The couple met up again nearby, where she unpacked her luggage from her BMW and willingly jumped into Roger’s Audi. Leaving her car parked up on a quiet side street, Roger and Sameena drove off together towards Leicester. Detectives believe Sameena thought this was to be a quick pre-Christmas visit to David – a detour on their trip to Birmingham.
It was on this journey that Sameena spoke with her sister for the final time. She asked how her mother was getting on, and confirmed she'd be at their parents' home on Boxing Day for family Christmas celebrations.
The couple arrived at David Cooper’s Leicester home at 5PM. It was early in the evening, but already dark outside this deep into winter
It’s believed Sameena was attacked by David almost immediately upon entering his property. It can’t have been difficult for the brothers to overpower her: at 6ft5" and 6ft7", these men towered over an unprepared, 5ft2" Sameena. She was smothered with chloroform, purchased on eBay a few weeks beforehand. A "bizarre" combination of metallic elements, including antimony, cadmium, tin, mercury and arsenic, is also thought to have been administered to Sameena in liquid form.
By 6.25PM, Roger had already begun his journey back to Coventry, leaving David to dispose of Sameena's body. In an effort to create the impression Sameena was still alive, Roger – once he'd turned up at his home to join his partner – sent a text to himself from her phone. It was a false alibi: "I am fuming. I am going to where I am truly cared for," it read.
Meanwhile, David got on with disposing of Sameena's body. Pathologists found she had been transferred to a grave within hours of her death. On a quiet allotment on Groby Road in Leicester, the body – wrapped in clingfilm and a sleeping bag – was buried deep underground. Whether or not David noticed the chilling sign hanging from his allotment shed: "Don't wind me up... I'm running out of places to hide the bodies," only he knows.
Over the following few days, the brothers continued the cover up operation: Sameena's car was moved from Coventry to Leicester, and then – after being wiped for fingerprints and DNA – abandoned in Luton. When Sameena never appeared at her family Boxing Day dinner, the police were informed and launched their search, later codenamed Operation Ceramic.
On the 4th of January, 2015, Sameena’s car was located on a quiet residential Luton street, some 65 miles from Coventry. Her handbag was missing, her suitcases and shopping too. There were no fingerprints, which the police found suspicious, and the driver’s seat was pushed far too far back for someone of Sameena's height. The missing person's enquiry became a no-body murder inquiry.
From then, it didn't take long for detectives to put the pieces of this grotesque murder together. Data from Sameena’s phone revealed to police she had travelled with Roger to Leicester. The bottle of Bellini Sameena purchased for Christmas was found in David’s fridge; the snacks in his cupboard, her SatNav in his loft. After a tip-off from a member of the public, archaeologists arrived at the allotment and began their excavations. On their fourth day, investigators found the outside edge of a sleeping bag. They lifted a flap, and knew straight away Sameena Imam’s body had been found.
The brothers were arrested on suspicion of murder on the 7th of January, 2014, and were charged two days later. On the 21st of October, 2015, Roger and David were both found guilty of murder unanimously by a jury. By Christmas, they were both behind bars, each serving a 30-year sentence.