ITV Wales' Hamish Auskerry reports from Cardiff Crown Court.
A man found guilty of murdering a delivery driver by running him over with his own van has been sentenced to life in prison.
Christopher El Gifari, 31, must serve a minimum term of 32 years, less 245 days already served on remand. He was also sentenced at Cardiff Crown Court to 10 years for robbery which will be served concurrently.
Mark Lang, 54, had been delivering parcels when El Gifari took his van. He stood in front of his vehicle in an attempt to stop it from being driven off but he was driven over and dragged at least 743 metres. Speed cameras on North Road recorded the van travelling at 47mph.
Mr Lang died in hospital 18 days later. El Gifari was found guilty of murder and robbery last Thursday (23 November), after a week-long trial. He had previously admitted manslaughter and the theft of Mr Lang's delivery van.
The court heard that El Gifari had 24 previous convictions going back to 2008. These included driving offences, possession and supply of illegal drugs and racially aggravated assault.
In court, a victim impact statement was read on behalf of Mark Lang’s partner, Caroline Bergelin. “Mark was very much a family man and his loss has devastated us all. He was my soulmate and the future seems scary without him."
Mr Lang and his partner had talked about getting married and where they would like to go on holiday. “The thought of a future without Mark seems almost unbearable”, the statement continued.
“Mark’s mum Jean has lost her only son. No parent should have to deal with the loss of their child."
During parts of the hearing where the statement was read to the court, El Gifari held his head in his hands as he sat in the dock.
“Neither of his daughters, Cara and Elena, will have their dad to walk them down the aisle. None of his future grandchildren will know their granddad.”
The court heard that since the incident, most of his family cannot drive along North Road as the memories are too upsetting.
Ms Bergelin said her partner Mark was in a coma for two-and-a-half weeks. The family were there every day, sometimes twice.
She told the court it was “a rollercoaster of emotions” as they witnessed him having seizures as hospital staff adjusted his medication, reacting to any flicker of his eyes in the hope he would wake up.
Mr Lang’s breathing gradually slowed until he died in April this year. “The image of this will stay with me always,” her statement concluded.
Prosecuting counsel David Elias KC told the court that this was a murder for gain because El Gifari was stealing the van to sell on its contents. Mr Elias argued that the fact Mr Lang was performing a public service should be an aggravating factor.
The court then heard from Mr Mark Graffius KC, defending El Gifari. He said his client had started using drugs at a young age and was addicted to heroin and cocaine by the age of 22.
Mr Graffius told the court that El Gifari was used as a drugs runner right up until he was arrested and charged in 2017 for conspiracy to supply class A drugs.
He was released from prison in 2019 where the court heard he tried to rebuild his life. He began working as a labourer removing asbestos, started a serious relationship and settled down to a family life.
But Mr Graffius said El Gifari then sustained a broken leg, leading to him being laid off, his relationship breaking down and losing his home.
CCTV shows El Gifari getting into the van and then running from the scene
El Gifari was addicted to prescription painkillers and on two occasions attempted to take his own life. His defence counsel told the court that was the background of hopelessness that set the context for the impulsive act of stealing Mr Lang’s van.
While Mr Justice Griffiths accepted that El Gifari did not necessarily intend to kill Mr Lang, he told the court that he must have been “completely indifferent to death”, when he continued to drive on after hitting the delivery driver with his own van in March 2023.
Following today's sentencing at Cardiff Crown Court, Ryan Randall, Senior Crown Prosecutor said: “This was a senseless act with fatal consequences. Our thoughts remain with the family and friends of Mr Lang.
“The CPS worked closely with South Wales Police to build a strong case and to present the evidence to the jury, which resulted in Christopher El Gifari’s conviction”.
Detective Chief Inspector Matt Powell, from South Wales Police, said: “We hope the sentence today can in some way help Mark’s family and friends to move forward. The thoughts of South Wales Police remain with them and of course, Mark.”Senior Investigating Officer Detective Inspector Rebecca Merchant, from South Wales Police, thanked the local community in Gabalfa for their support during the investigation, she added "in particular by providing CCTV which has been crucial in this case".
She continued: “I recognise that nothing can bring Mark back or put right the events of that day and whilst the outcome today can never compensate Mark’s family for their terrible loss, I do hope it will bring a degree of comfort to all those who love him.
“I would like to pay tribute to the compassion shown by members of the public who tried their best to help and comfort Mark, and to the professionalism of police officers and emergency service colleagues who attended the scene."
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