Woman tried to kill her housemate ‘as part of desperate bid to stay in country’

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A failed asylum seeker launched a ‘frenzied and calculated’ attack on her housemate in a desperate attempt to being deported from the UK.

Awa Zongo, 29, hurled a pan of boiling water over Asam Panahandeh and stabbed her 30 times during the ‘unprovoked’ attack at their home in Wigan.

Manchester Crown Court heard that as she launched the attack in December of last year, Zongo, who was due to be deported two days later, repeatedly shouted ‘I’m not going back’.

After managing to escape, Ms Panahandeh fled into the street covered in blood and with the knife still plunged deep into her neck.

Doctors who treated her said it was ‘miraculous’ that she had survived the attack.

Today a judge sentenced Zongo to life in prison with a minimum term of seven years.

Jailing her, Judge Patrick Field QC described Zongo as ‘a dangerous woman’.

Prosecutor Joe Boyd told the court that the defendant had arrived in the UK from Burkina Faso on January 9, 2019.

She had sought entry as a visitor, but was refused.

Zongo was detained in immigration detention and was meant to leave the country two days later, but ended up being removed from her flight when she became ‘uncooperative and unmanageable’.

After applying for asylum, she was provided with rental accommodation by the National Asylum Support Service.

She was placed at an address Atherton Road, in Hindley, along with Ms Panahandeh and two other women.

However, in December of last year, she learned that her asylum bid had been refused.

Having exhausted her appeal options, she was due to be deported from the UK on December 16.

After receiving this news, the court heard that Zongo began to struggle with her mental health.

Mr Boyd said that her actions had concerned Ms Panahandeh, who she was said to be on ‘good terms’ with at the time.

He added: “The defendant complained of being unwell and having suicidal thoughts.

“On two occasions, the complainant called ambulances.

“Paramedics told her there was nothing wrong and she was playing a game.

“On both occasions she was discharged from hospital.”

Despite having received help from Ms Panahandeh, Zongo turned on her housemate in a ‘merciless’ attack.

Appearing over a video link from Styal Prison, she wept as the horrifying details of the attack were read out to her in French via her translator, Lauren Shadi.

Mr Boyd said that on the morning of December 14, 2019, Ms Panahandeh had been on the toilet in the shared bathroom of the house when Zongo entered the room.

The victim initially believed Zongo had walked in by mistake, but her housemate then poured a pan of boiling water over her head.

Ignoring Ms Panahandeh’s pleas for mercy, Zongo grabbed hold of her hair, threw her to the ground and beat her around the head with the pan.

As Ms Panahandeh tried to flee towards the back door, Zongo pulled her to the floor by her hair again before grabbing a knife from the kitchen.

She then stabbed Ms Panahandeh repeatedly as she cowered on the floor covering her face.

The court heard that when the knife broke, Zongo went to fetch another.

She returned and checked to see if Ms Panahandeh was still alive before continuing her attack.

Believed Zongo’s intention was to kill her, Ms Panahandeh pretended to be dead.

However, in one final blow, Zongo plunged the knife deep into the victim’s neck before leaving her for dead.

The court heard that the blow had only narrowly avoided severing a lethal artery, with doctors who treated Ms Panahandeh claiming it was a ‘miracle’ she survived.

The knife still lodged deep into her neck, Ms Panahandeh managed to escape from the house and ran out into the main road.

She was seen by an off-duty nurse, Karen Surridge, who was in a car on her way to work.

Mrs Surridge stopped to dial 999 and police and paramedics were dispatched to the scene.

When police turned up at about 10.20am, they saw Zongo stumble from the property before deliberately throwing herself to the ground,feigning collapse.

Ms Panahandeh was rushed to Royal Manchester Infirmary, the knife still penetrating her throat with just the handle protruding from it.

She underwent surgery to remove the knife from her neck.

She also suffered 30 superficial stab wounds to her neck, thorax, abdomen and thighs, as well as burns to her face, shoulder, arm and back – estimated at around 15pc of her body surface.

Zongo was also taken to hospital with superficial injuries.

She was later arrested on suspicion of attempted murder and charged.

When interviewed by police, she told them she had ‘not meant to kill her victim’ and did not remember anything about what had happened.

Due to the ‘extensive and shocking’ nature of her injuries, Ms Panahandeh had to remain in hospital for more than three weeks for treatment.

The court heard the attack had had a ‘profound and lasting effect’ on her and left with her ‘psychological scars’.

In a victim impact statement, Ms Panahandeh said she ‘suffered pain 24 hours a day’ as a result of the attack.

She described having had ‘her life taken away from her’, as she felt depressed, was no longer able to speak and had ‘lost all of her confidence’.

Ms Panahandeh added that she possessed a degree in psychology and had hoped to continue her studies in the UK, but had been forced to curtail her plans due to her injuries.

Mitigating, Steven Swift, told the court that Zongo’s life had been ‘blighted by physical and sexual abuse’.

He added that she had lived a ‘transient lifestyle’ which had seen her move between several African countries.

Mr Swift said: “Prior to arriving in the UK, this defendant has lived in a culture where violence and sexual exploitation became the norm for her.

“These circumstances do appear to have impacted upon her.”

He explained that a psychiatrist had since determined that Zongo was suffering the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder for which she needed treatment.

Mr Swift argued that the rejection of her asylum appeal, along with her ‘fragile mental health’, had triggered the attack on Ms Panahandeh.

He described Zongo, who has no previous convictions, as being ‘of good character’ and said she had since expressed ‘regret, remorse and shame’ at her actions.

Zongo, of Atherton Road, Hindley, previously pleaded guilty to an offence of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm after the prosecution accepted a lesser charge.

Sentencing Zongo, Judge Patrick Field QC, said he rejected the claim that her PTSD had played a significant role in the attack.

He added: “In the absence of any other explanation for this merciless attack, it seems that your sole purpose was to prevent your lawful removal from this country.

“No other explanation has been offered.

“If, therefore, this was your motivation it was particularly calculated, cynical and, frankly, wicked.”

He added: “You acted in a deliberate and calculated manner.

“Whatever your motivation, what happened on December 14 demonstrates that you are a particularly dangerous offender.”