Most of us know the first hours after a murder are critical for the police. But the intriguing thing is how the perpetrators themselves behave in the immediate aftermath of their crimes. As host Philip Glenister shows in What the Killer Did Next, some frantically cover their tracks, others calmly set their alibis, and some – like Sabah Khan – simply wait for the police to turn up at the blood-splattered scene, ready to spin enough lies to escape justice.
Who is Sabah Khan? An ordinary Luton woman in her late 20s who was compelled to commit one of the worst atrocities imaginable: the murder of her sister. What led her to take a knife in her hand on 23 May 2016 and turn on the woman she’d been so close to, and who never knew what was coming?
Inside the pressure cooker
'That b*tch you constantly text 24/7, but me you don’t have time.' These bitter words were written in a WhatsApp message by Sabah Khan. The 'b*itch' in question was her sister, Saima. The recipient of the text: Saima’s husband, Hafeez Rehman, with whom Sabah had a long-running affair in the lead-up to the killing.
Sabah had been living under the same roof as the married couple, Hafeez and Saima, together with their four young children and the sisters’ elderly parents. It’s not hard to imagine how this domestic set-up - an example of the importance of close family bonds to Pakistani culture - turned into a tense, pressure cooker once Sabah and Hafeez began having an affair right under everyone’s noses. The evidence suggests the affair was a rocky one, with Hafeez clearly putting his wife first – much to Sabah’s frustration and rage. She was infatuated with her brother-in-law, bombarding him with texts like 'I don’t know why you are treating me like this, I don’t know why you don’t respect me? Nothing in the world can change my feelings for you.'
She even became pregnant with his child and was forced to have an abortion to prevent an all-out family scandal. As Sabah started to feel like her control of the situation was starting to falter, and that the object of her frenzied affection was slipping from her grasp, her mind started to go to the darkest places imaginable.
How to get away with murder
In 2016, as the affair ebbed and Hafeez seemed set to make a fresh start with his wife and kids, Sabah’s Internet search histories spoke volumes about how desperate she was. She looked up venomous snakes for sale. She researched the ins and outs of poisoning people. And she even pored over an online article called '16 Steps to Kill Someone and Not Get Caught'. Not that she seemed to have paid much attention, given that one of the stipulations is 'Don’t kill anyone you’re involved with romantically', as that makes you suspect number one for the police.
More bizarrely, Sabah even contacted a sort of spiritual hitman in the form of a 'black magic priest' back in Pakistan, whom she paid £5,000 to cast a spell that would extinguish her sister’s life. Referring to herself in the third person during their messages, she told him: 'You finish off Saima as quickly as possible so my Sabah can get her Hafeez back.'
The magic man vanished – either because he was an out-and-out fraudster, or because Sabah’s lethal commands were too frightening, even for him. She realised she had to commit the act herself: the murder of her own flesh and blood in order to steal her sister’s perfect life. And so, with a startling disregard for all the research she’d done into the 'perfect murder', apparently forgetting all the incriminating texts she’d sent spouting hate against her sister, she embarked on her plot.
One night in May 2016, when the rest of her family were attending a funeral at a mosque, Sabah searched online to find out how long a Muslim funeral usually lasts. This was the timeframe in which she would strike while babysitting her victim’s children.
'If I could, I would take my heart out and show you what you are for me,' Sabah once texted her brother-in-law. As it turned out, Sabah would indeed commit violence for love – not upon herself, but upon her sister.