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Three people who tortured, starved and beat mum from west London guilty of murder

Shakira Spencer, a young mother of two, tragically lost her life on the evening of Monday 12 September last year. Her story is a stark reminder of the devastating consequences of domestic abuse and human trafficking.

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On Monday, 11 December, Ashana Studholme, 38 from Harrow, Shaun Pendlebury, 26 and Lisa Richardson, 44 from Ealing, were found guilty and convicted of her murder and of preventing the lawful burial of Shakira Spencer at the Old Bailey, following a trial lasting 12 weeks.

They starved her, beat her, and poured boiling water on her. They left her body to rot in her flat.

Shakira was a vibrant and loving mother who cherished her two children. She was also a victim of violence and exploitation, a fact that was hidden from her loved ones until it was too late.

The trio subjected Ms. Spencer to abhorrent treatment, akin to enslavement, depriving her of proper care and sustenance. She endured being fed only ketchup sachets and suffered degradation, transitioning from a vibrant, healthy size 16 individual to a distressingly emaciated size six shortly before her untimely demise. Witnesses last saw her struggling to walk from a car, marking the final time anyone saw her alive on the evening of Monday, September 12th, the year prior.

Tragically, Ms. Spencer’s severely decomposed body was discovered in her Ealing, west London flat, two weeks after concerned neighbours noticed maggots emerging from her residence. The appalling conditions of her demise revealed a prolonged period of cruelty and neglect inflicted by her tormentors.

During the trial, evidence emerged of the relentless abuse Ms. Spencer suffered at the hands of Studholme, who orchestrated and led the abusive trio comprising Richardson and Pendlebury. They systematically tormented, starved, and physically assaulted Ms. Spencer, ultimately leading to her tragic death.

Prosecutor Allison Hunter KC drew a stark comparison, likening the defendants to “a pack of feral savages” for their brutal treatment of Ms. Spencer.

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Ashana Studholme is a cruel, manipulative, coercive vile feral savage.

The trio cruelly regarded Shakira Spencer as subhuman, enforcing a regime where she was made to perform tasks at odd hours, deprived of proper sustenance, and stripped of control over her finances. “Shakira Spencer was clearly viewed as less than human by these three wicked defendants,” Ms. Hunter told the Old Bailey jury.

Targeted and isolated

Prosecutor Allison Hunter KC said: “In early 2021 Shakira Spencer had been a healthy – even voluptuous – size 16 weighing some 74kgs (11st 9lb).

“By July 2022 Shakira Spencer was just skin and bone. Gaunt and skeletal, bruised from head to foot, with hollowed black eyes. She was barely a scrawny size six in images taken by the defendants just before she died.

“For whatever was their unfathomable, cruel, sadistic motive, these three defendants tormented, tortured, starved, burned and eventually battered Shakira Spencer to death.”

Senior Investigating Officer, Detective Chief Inspector Brian Howie said: “My thoughts today, and that of my team, are with Shakira Spencer’s family and friends. During the trial they listened to deeply traumatising evidence of the depraved acts of indescribable cruel torment committed by the three defendants. They murdered Shakira in the most savage and inhumane way imaginable.

“Shakira was a beautiful, happy mother who was kind and had a trusting nature. Shakira could be vulnerable and these defendants took advantage of that by controlling and isolating her from everyone she knew in order to control and enslave her in the most dehumanising and degrading way.

“The family’s ordeal has been compounded by the behaviour of the defendants, who have each lied, providing implausible accounts and explanations to try and absolve themselves of any responsibility. Whatever their cruel and sadistic motives were, there is no acceptable explanation for what Shakira was put through.

“Ashana Studholme is a cruel, manipulative, coercive individual,” says Det Ch Insp Howie. “She seems to have a power over people and controls them. She is just a vile person.”

At the end of August, Shakira was stopped near Studholme’s flat by police, who were concerned about her appearance and demeanour. She said nothing to them and returned to her solitary hell.

Ten days later, Studholme sent Richardson a message saying: “I’ve buss her head I need you here I will go to jail.” This was the signal for all three to gather at Studholme’s flat.

Over a weekend in September they carried out their final sustained attacks on Shakira, which would prove fatal. Boiling water was poured over her, a lighter and spray can was used as a blowtorch, burning her face and she was beaten around the head with a heavy massager.

“They have no remorse,” says Det Ch Insp Howie. “None of them gave her any medical assistance. None of them called any professionals, any doctors, tried to get any help for her at all, when they could have. That death could hopefully have been prevented at that point. But they didn’t. And it was two weeks later that she was found in a badly decomposed state in her home.”

Concerned only for themselves, the killers tried to remove evidence of the “beating, blood and torture”, he says. They scrambled to mount a clean-up operation. They were caught on CCTV buying products, using Shakira’s bank card. Studholme was heard shouting: “I can’t go back to prison.”

Soon afterwards, the trio’s bond of complicity was broken. Pendlebury confessed to members of his family what he and the two women had done. His uncle called the police. During the trial Pendlebury changed his story, saying he was not involved in Shakira’s death.

The media attention has helped to raise awareness about Shakira’s story and the issues it raises. It has also helped to support legislation aimed at protecting victims of domestic abuse and human trafficking.

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