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Inquest: Man arrested for murder after dead woman's mobile phone traced to Lanzarote

PUBLISHED: 08:00 08 April 2010 | UPDATED: 15:49 05 October 2010

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by Victoria Huntley A THIEF who stole a woman s mobile phone was arrested on suspicion of her murder after a body was pulled out of the River Lea, an inquest heard. Mark

by Victoria Huntley

A THIEF who stole a woman's mobile phone was arrested on suspicion of her murder after a body was pulled out of the River Lea, an inquest heard.

Mark Smith was arrested by police when he arrived back from holiday in Lanzarote the day Musonda Chimfwembe's body was recovered.

Police traced Smith after he made calls from the 21-year-old's mobile phone after she went missing more than three weeks earlier.

But charges were dropped after Smith said he stole the phone, bank cards and Oyster card from Musonda's handbag when he found it lying on the footpath at the side of the river on December 13 last year.

Yesterday Det Sgt Robert Kidd told Poplar Coroner's Court Smith had not realised the Zambian student had drowned after plunging into the icy water as he cycled along the river bank.

He said: "He had been calling with her mobile and had also tried to withdraw cash using her bank cards but had not been successful.

"His story has not faltered and we are convinced that he had nothing to do with her death.

"He admitted theft and we have issued him with a caution; he has been banged to rights for that."

Musonda was reported missing on Sunday, December 13, 2010. She was last seen by her family when she left her home in Roach Road, Hackney Wick on December 10.

Sister Ivy said: "She seemed irritable and left the house without saying goodbye or telling me where she was going, which was unusual.

"I asked what was wrong because I felt like I was treading on eggshells but she said it was nothing and left a few minutes later."

Ivy called her mother and other sisters in Zambia as she was worried that Musonda had not returned home the following morning and was not taking her calls.

Investigations show that Musonda spent time with friends in Clapton and Greenwich after she left but was last captured on CCTV a quarter-of-a-mile from home on the evening of December 13. Police believe she entered the water a few minutes later.

Her body was found by police divers on January 5, near the spot Smith found her handbag.

The cause of death was drowning and she had no other injuries.

Recording an open verdict, Coroner Dr Andrew Reid said: "The circumstances under which she went into the water cannot be determined.

"Although we cannot rule out the possibility of suicide there is no evidence available that proves she intended to take her life or harm herself in any way.

"She may simply have slipped and fallen in and in this case we must give her the benefit of the doubt.

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