Inquest reopened into Bognor Regis murder

Cassandra Hasanovic
Cassandra Hasanovic

A MURDERED mother who fled the UK in fear of her husband was forced to return after he claimed she ‘kidnapped’ their children.

Cassandra Hasanovic, 24, was stabbed by her estranged husband Hajrudin Hasanovic on July 29, 2008, in front of her mother and her children in Bognor Regis as she was being taken to a women’s refuge.

She had previously fled to Australia with their two young children after he assaulted her.

Hasanovic was jailed for her murder in 2009.

An inquest was reopened today (February 17) at Edes House, in West Street, Chichester, at the request of Mrs Hasanovic’s family, looking at the circumstances leading up to her death.

Speaking to the jury, Mrs Hasanovic’s mother Sharon De Souza, who witnessed the attack, said she could not understand why Hasanovic had not previously been arrested or held in custody, after he breached the terms of a non-molestation order not to approach his estranged wife.

He repeatedly threatened Mrs Hasanovic and her family, leaving the 24-year-old fearing for her life and her children.

“I was incredibly worried about what this was doing to my daughter,” she said.

“She was living like the prisoner and he was wandering around threatening her and nothing seemed to be happening to him and I couldn’t understand why nothing was happening to him and she couldn’t either.”

After she left for Australia, Mrs Hasanovic’s husband used The Hague Convention to enforce her return to the UK, accusing her of kidnapping their children.

History of violence in marriage

Speaking at the inquest today, senior coroner for West Sussex Penelope Schofield said there had been a history of violence in the marriage, adding Hasanovic’s trial in 2009 dealt with whether he had an ‘intent to kill’, when he stabbed his wife. He had already admitted manslaughter.

She added: “It didn’t explore other issues of the case and these issues haven’t been subject of any independent public scrutiny.

“This is something that will take place in the course of this inquest.”

The inquest will examine the circumstances that led to Mrs Hasanovic’s death, including the contact she had with Sussex Police, Arun District Council, Kent Police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

‘Controlling’ relationship

Mrs Hasanovic met her husband in 2002 when she was 18, visiting the UK from Australia. She moved in with him in his flat in Portsmouth after a short period and they were soon married.

Cassandra’s mother said her daughter was ‘delightful from the time she was born’.

“She loved children, people, animals. Very loving, generous and very funny. A very humorous girl, but very gentle as well.”

At the time of marrying, Mrs Hasanovic was pregnant with the couple’s first child.

Mrs De Souza told the inquest the longer the couple were together, the more distant her daughter was and the more controlling Hasanovic became.

It was only later she discovered that prior to his marriage, Serbian-born Hasanovic’s immigration status in the UK was under threat.

“He was, as far as I’m aware, an illegal immigrant at the time he met Cassie,” she told the coroner. “Once they were married and their children were born in England he was entitled to stay here.”

At one point, Hasanovic called Mrs De Souza.

“He asked me to take my daughter’s number out of my phone and forget I ever had a daughter,” she said, adding he hung up before she had a chance to say anything.

Mrs De Souza and her husband had by this point moved to the UK and were living near London, with her daughter and Hasanovic still living in a flat in Portsmouth.

Hasanovic made no effort to contact his mother-in-law after his wife went into labour with their first child, not engaging with them when they later arrived to see the newborn.

Mrs De Souza and her husband moved to Normanton Avenue, in Bognor Regis, but still found it hard to see much of the young family, who later welcomed a second son.

All was still not well in the relationship, with Mrs Hasanovic telling her mother that her husband was dangerous.

Hasanovic later relocated the family to Dover.

Fleeing the country

Things came to a head when Mrs De Souza was in Cornwall on holiday with her husband and was phoned by her sobbing daughter, who she said was ‘hysterical’, and the Kent Police were contacted.

Hasanovic was arrested on May 8, 2007, on suspicion of sexually assaulting his wife.

Mrs Hasanovic and the two children went to Mrs De Souza’s Bognor Regis home, however, she was shocked to hear her husband had been bailed, as she understood he would be remanded in custody.

“She was hysterical, absolutely hysterical,” Mrs De Souza told the court. “She said: ‘I’ve got to get away, I can’t be here, he will find me, he will come here’. I was trying to calm her down and find out what had been really going on. She was petrified, absolutely petrified of him.”

At this point, Mrs Hasanovic resolved to go to Australia on May 9, out of her husband’s reach.

His bail conditions prevented him entering West Sussex, or contacting her, however she believed this would not stop him.

“She didn’t feel safe at my house,” Mrs De Souza told the coroner.

Of the assaults, she added: “She was taking on the shame and humiliation and blaming herself. She did tell me he had threatened to kill her.”

Informing Kent Police she would be in Australia, Mrs Hasanovic travelled with the children to her father’s house.

After being bailed, Hasanovic repeatedly broke his bail conditions, according to Mrs De Souza, as he would ‘bombard’ the whole family with phone calls.

“He had rung my home, he had rung Cassie hundreds and hundreds of times.

“It was relentless - hundreds of phone calls and texts.

She added: “He threatened to kill Cassie - chop her up into little pieces and post her back to her family.

“He threatened to do that to members of my family, anyone who helped her would be very sorry, my daughter was playing with her life, he was having her tracked, he would find her, she would be very sorry, we were going to be very sorry.”

Mrs Hasanovic went to the police in Australia and showed them the messages around May 22, who contacted Kent Police.

“From where I could see, she was doing everything she possibly could to keep the police informed,” Mrs De Souza told the inquest.

However, she said no further action was taken against Hasanovic and the court told her daughter she had refused to give evidence, which she denied, saying she would appear via video link.

Mrs De Souza said her daughter wanted the charges against her husband to be pressed.

“There was never a doubt or a question about her wanting them to go ahead. What she didn’t want was to be in the same country as him. Her fear level was so high.”

She added: “While the case against him for the assault was going ahead he had managed to bring a child kidnapping case under the Hague Convention.”

It ruled the children had to be returned to England and so their mother returned with them in December 2007.

Upon her return, Hasanovic had to sign an undertaking not to approach his wife or contact her.

Although Hasanovic was not allowed to know when she would be landing in the UK, he was entitled to know where she lived.

“We couldn’t understand the logic,” said Mrs De Souza.

Throughout this time, her daughter was very scared and she used to say: “I know he’s going to kill me mum.”

Seeking refuge

They lived in Normanton Avenue, in Bognor Regis, while the ongoing court proceedings were held in Chichester.

In April, Hasanovic appeared when she was out with her children and grabbed their eldest son. Mrs Hasanovic ran into a nearby off-licence and called her mother. Hasanovic left the area.

She reported this to Sussex Police and a statement was taken and police were filled in on the background of the relationship.

Mrs De Souza said she thought her son-in-law was going to be arrested, but police could not locate him.

“At the point when she died they had never located him or arrested him,” she said.

She said even when they told police when Hasanovic was due to appear for court proceedings he still was not arrested.

Sussex Police had given her a panic alarm and also linked her phone directly to the police station.

At one point Hasanovic approached her on the court steps in July and threatened her, which she told her solicitor and reported to the police.

She then contacted Arun District Council about going with the children to a women’s refuge.

“It wasn’t something she particularly wanted - to go to a refuge. She wanted to be with me, but she didn’t feel safe but things were coming to a head,” said Mrs De Souza. “There was the final court hearing for the decision to be made about whether she would be able to take the boys to Australia.

“That was happening the first week in August. His time of immigration was running out so she was very scared leading up to that. She felt that was when he would do something because his situation was getting desperate.

“She was becoming incredibly fearful that he would do what he said he would do to her.”

Day of the murder

The day she died, Mrs Hasanovic again contacted Sussex Police and gave a statement at the Normanton Avenue home.

She felt threatened and asked for the police to take her to the refuge, however this did not happen. The family was worried about Hasanovic’s whereabouts as he was supposed to be at an earlier meeting with solicitors, but had not shown up.

Mrs De Souza told the inquest her daughter was so petrified and in tears. She packed her mother’s car and urged her to drive them immediately to the refuge.

“As soon as I got in she said: ‘Mum quick, drive’.

“I said: ‘I’m trying’ and she said: ‘It’s him’.

“I remember saying to her: ‘Oh my god ring the police. I was trying to start the car but it seemed like seconds and he was at the car.”

Hasanovic got the doors open and grabbed his wife, then stabbed her in front of their children.

Mrs De Souza had called the police and people were rushing to help. Hasanovic had fled the scene.

She told the inquest two officers were quickly on the scene.

“I was very fearful because obviously my daughter was face down in a pool of blood so I was frantically worried about her and worried that he would come back and he would try and get her in the car with the kids. I just wanted to keep them safe.

“Two police officers did arrive and obviously my daughter was not in a good way and they didn’t give her any assistance, which I was begging them to. They were on their walkie-talkies. They said: ‘She’s part of the crime scene’.”

She said another officer arrived who tried to stem the blood and give CPR.

Concerns about agency involvement

The inquest heard Cassandra Hasanovic’s family have concerns about the fact that Sussex Police did not seek to arrest Hasanovic after she returned to the UK and was threatened.

“It was like it was irrelevant really because they had the power to arrest him,” said Mrs De Souza, adding her daughter gave police details about where Hasanovic lived and worked.

“She couldn’t do their jobs for them. She was 24 years old. I was as exasperated as she was. It didn’t seem to matter. That’s how we felt.”