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Driver smothered his two children with petrol-soaked rag, murder trial told

Saros and Leanor Endris were killed in a house fire last year Credit: West Midlands Police

An Uber driver killed his two young children by smothering them with a petrol-soaked rag as their mother slept upstairs, a murder trial has heard.

Jurors were told Endris Mohammed carried out the killings during a "sleepover" in the lounge and then fled in his taxi, leaving his wife to discover the lifeless bodies of eight-year-old Saros Endris and his sister Leanor, aged six.

Birmingham Crown Court heard the youngsters, who had suffered chemical burns to their faces, were found on a sofa and a mattress after their mother Penil Teklehaimanot was woken by a smoke alarm.

Mohammed, 47, denies the murder of both children and the attempted murder of their mother, but admits being responsible for the deaths.

Endris Mohammed Credit: West Midlands Police

Opening the case against Mohammed, prosecutor Jonas Hankin QC said repeated efforts were made to revive the children outside their home in Holland Road, Hamstead, Birmingham.

The barrister told the court:

Police and fire services were swift to arrive. A small fire inside the front door of the address had been put out and the area smelled strongly of petrol.

They found Saros and Leanor lying lifeless on the ground outside the house. Both children were in cardiac arrest.

Examination of the scene revealed that the inside of the house had been doused with petrol, escape routes had been impeded, the electricity supply had been disabled, and an attempt had been made to release gas by damaging a pipe that supplied the cooker.

– Prosecutor Jonas Hankin QC
Tributes left at the scene in Birmingham Credit: ITV News Central

The start of Mohammed's trial was told his children were formally pronounced dead a minute apart at separate hospitals in Birmingham and Sandwell, after being found at about 3.30am on October 28 last year.

Mohammed, who came to Britain as an asylum-seeker from Ethiopia in 2006, suffered severe burns when a fire engulfed his car in Newcastle-under-Lyme about three hours later.

Alleging that Mohammed intended to cause a gas explosion at his house, killing his wife, Mr Hankin told the jury: "Penil was asleep in the house when the fire was started.

"She immediately tried to put the fire out using her hands and feet whilst calling out for her husband, but he didn't appear because he had driven off."

Police at the scene in Birmingham last year Credit: ITV News Central

Mrs Teklehaimanot, who initially thought her children were asleep, carried them outside with the help of neighbours.

Mr Hankin told the court:

The defendant is charged with murder and attempted murder. He admits that he intentionally killed his children.

But it will be argued on his behalf that his mental responsibility was substantially impaired so that he should be convicted of manslaughter rather than murder.

– Prosecutor Jonas Hankin QC

The court heard Mohammed told a psychiatrist he intended to take his own life and had smothered the children after becoming depressed and deciding they "would be better off dead".

Claiming there was no objective evidence that the defendant's mood was abnormal, Mr Hankin said witnesses who travelled in Mohammed's rented Vauxhall Insignia hours before the killings had found him to be pleasant and talkative.

Concluding his opening remarks to the jury, Mr Hankin said of the defendant:

It is argued on his behalf that he was suffering from a depressive disorder, which gave rise to an abnormality of mental function which substantially impaired his ability to form a rational judgment.

The prosecution rejects that assertion.

– Prosecutor Jonas Hankin QC

The first witnesses in the case are expected to give evidence on Thursday.