A husband and wife who dedicated their lives to helping African children were murdered in cold blood by Islamic terrorists, an inquest heard yesterday.
Dick and Enid Eyeington were watching television at their home in Somaliland when a terrorist linked to al-Qaeda shot them.
The couple were considered “infidels” by their attackers, who wrongly believed that they were trying to convert Africans to Christianity.
Four men were involved in the attack in which a gunman wielding an AK47 put the weapon through the living room window and opened fire on Oct 20, 2003.
Mr Eyeington, 62, was shot four times. He was still holding the television remote control when he was found, Westminster coroner’s court heard. Mrs Eyeington, 60, died from a single shot to the head.
The aid workers, originally from Co Durham, where they were childhood sweethearts, had lived in Africa since marrying in 1963 and worked with poor children in Tanzania, Swaziland and Somaliland.
Mr Eyeington became headmaster of Waterford School and his wife worked with people suffering from HIV. Despite their families’ worries, they took up an offer three years ago to set up a new school for the charity SOS Village in the village of Sheikh, in Somaliland, a country in which violence is widespread.
Their daughter Louise, 37, a solicitor from London, told the hearing that her father, a Sunderland supporter, had run football clubs in Africa and her mother had set up outreach health centres. “Dick and Enid dedicated most of their lives to the education of underprivileged African children,” she said. “They had great courage, commitment and honesty and the world is a poorer place without them.”
The authorities in Somaliland asked the Metropolitan Police for help and officers flew from Britain to collect evidence and to help in the investigation.
There was a breakthrough in March last year when a German aid worker and his Kenyan girlfriend were attacked. A man was arrested and he confessed to killing the Eyeingtons.
Det Chief Insp Jill Bailey told the hearing that last month four men, including Mohammed Ali Essa, who fired the AK47, had been convicted of murder and sentenced to death by firing squad. The terrorists shouted “Allah Akbar” (God is Great) after being sentenced and are still awaiting execution.
Miss Bailey said the men were part of a terrorist cell called El Itihad which had killed an Italian nun a week earlier. She also said that Essa’s brother-in-law, Adan Ayro, who owned the house in which Essa was captured, could have had links to al-Qa’eda. A plan to blow up an Ethiopian airliner and bomb-making manuals were uncovered during the investigations.
“The defendants did not recognise their actions as crimes,” Miss Bailey said. “They felt justified in murdering infidels who they believed were offending Muslim fundamentalism.”
Recording a verdict of unlawful killing, the coroner, Dr Paul Knapman, said: “This is a terrible tragedy in which two people who had dedicated their lives to improving the lives of underprivileged African children were murdered in cold blood and appear to be victims of terrorism abroad.”