Joy Morgan murder trial: Court told Cricklewood man accused of murdering missing student ‘treated her like a daughter’

Joy Morgan. Photo: Herts Police

Joy Morgan. Photo: Herts Police - Credit: Archant

A midwifery student who has been missing since Boxing Day was murdered by a “thoroughly dishonest and manipulative” Cricklewood man who attended her church and who she viewed as a father figure, a court has heard.

Shohfah-El Israel, 40, has gone on trial at Reading Crown Court accused of killing Joy Morgan between December 26 and December 30 2018.

The 20-year-old has not been seen or heard from in almost seven months, and a body has never been recovered.

Both Israel and Ms Morgan, who was 20 when she went missing, regularly attended the Israel United in Christ church in Ilford - which, the court heard, has rules including a ban on pre-marital sex and women not being in the company of men other than their husbands.

The student, who was in her second year at the University of Hertfordshire, was last seen at the church in Hainult Street on Boxing Day.

Opening the case, prosecutor Mark Fenhalls QC said: "Her body has never been found but the Crown say that all the evidence will make you sure that she is dead and that this defendant, Mr Israel, is responsible."

The jury was told Ms Morgan "did not have the easiest relationship" with her family and that the church, which she joined in January 2016, had become "the centrepiece of her personal life".

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Mr Fenhalls said she was a "positive and happy young woman" and that the evidence indicated she had been content at the church, where she worshipped regularly and helped to run a children's group.

Israel, whose birth name is Ajibola Shogbamimu, also attended the Israel United in Christ church with his wife, the court heard.

The couple, who had addresses in both Cricklewood and Luton, had befriended Ms Morgan and would give her lifts in his red and black Honda car between her student accommodation in Hatfield and the church, the court heard.

Phone messages between Israel and Ms Morgan showed that she referred to him as a father figure, the court heard.

One message sent in January 2018 read: "I really do appreciate how you treat me like a daughter. From the beginning I have struggled with not have a father in this truth because I came in soo young. I understand i have spiritual fathers but you treat me like i am your blood daughter (sic)."

Ms Morgan was reported to police as missing by her mother on February 7 this year and Israel was arrested two days later.

While he initially told police he dropped Ms Morgan off at her student accommodation in Hatfield after a church event on December 26, he later told officers he had in fact brought her back to his flat in Cricklewood where she stayed on the sofa for two nights before he claimed he drove her back to Hatfield', Mr Fenhalls said.

The prosecutor, who said what happened in the intervening hours is "at the heart" of the case, added: "The Crown's case is that he is one of those people who lies whenever he thinks he can get away with it.

"Only when presented with a new piece of evidence does he suddenly come up with a fresh explanation."

Mr Fenhalls added: "The Crown says he is a thoroughly dishonest and manipulative man."

Ms Morgan's number was removed from a Telegram chat group - consisting of church members - on the evening of December 28, the court heard.

Mr Fenhalls said: "We say the evidence shows that she had no intention of leaving the church. She was happy, it was part of her life.

"It is the Crown's case that the defendant was responsible for removing her name from the chat group and that that was part of what he did to cover up what he had done to her by then."

Israel changed his name by deed poll in May last year, the jury heard, in keeping with church teachings.

Mr Fenhalls explained that many members of the church adopt Hebrew first names and the surname Israel.

The church, which has a congregation of around 150, derives its teachings from Judaism, worshipping the Sabbath every Saturday, and has "a very particular and clear social hierarchy", he said.

Ranks for male members include the titles officers and soldiers, with all others called brothers.

Female members have no ranks and are simply called sisters, the court heard.

He said: "In theory there are some very strict rules about women never being in company of men other than their husbands and there is a ban on pre-marital sex."

He said women in the church often refer to men as "Sir" and "master".

Israel denies a single charge of murder.

The trial continues.