Mastermind behind armed robbery that killed police officer likely to die in prison after sentencing

By John Mercury May 11, 2024

The mastermind of an armed robbery in which PC Sharon Beshenivsky was shot dead in 2005 will likely die in prison after he was sentenced today.

Piran Ditta Khan, 75, was last month found guilty of murdering the West Yorkshire Police officer, who was shot at point-blank range at Universal Express travel agent in Morley Street, Bradford.

He has been jailed for life with a minimum term of 40 years.

Prosecutors said that although Khan was not one of the three smartly dressed men who carried out the raid, he had played a “pivotal” role and was guilty of murder “as surely as if he pulled the trigger on that pistol himself”.

PC Beshenivsky, 38 – who had only been a police officer for nine months – and colleague PC Teresa Milburn, then 37, were both unarmed when they responded to an alarm call and were shot in the chest on 18 November 2005.

Mastermind behind the robbery - Piran Ditta Khan
Piran Ditta Khan has been jailed for murder

PC Beshenivsky collapsed to the floor with an immediately fatal injury, while PC Milburn survived after radioing for help while she was on the pavement coughing up blood.

Khan fled to Pakistan three months after the shooting and evaded arrest for 15 years until he was detained by Pakistani authorities in 2020 and extradited to the UK last year.

He pleaded guilty to robbery and was found guilty of murder, two counts of possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, and two counts of possession of a prohibited weapon, after a trial at Leeds Crown Court.

PC Sharon Beshenivsky died while attending a robbery at a travel agent in 2005. Pic: Reuters
PC Sharon Beshenivsky. Pic: Reuters

The judge, Mr Justice Hilliard, handed him a life sentence with a minimum term of 40 years today, telling Khan he will spend the rest of his life in prison.

He told Khan he was sure he had the idea of robbing the travel agency, and “intended that the weapons should be used to kill if necessary to do so”, adding that he was part of a “planned enterprise” and shared “murderous intent”.

He praised PC Beshenivsky for responding to the call “when she and her colleague had no way of knowing what they would be confronted with when they got there”.

“PC Sharon Beshenivsky’s courage and commitment to duty that day cost her life,” he said.

Khan, wearing a blue tracksuit and listening to his interpreter, had his head down as he was sentenced.

He is the last of the seven men involved in the raid to be tried – Mustaf Jama, Yusuf Jama and Muzzaker Shah are serving life sentences with minimum 35-year terms after being found guilty of murder, robbery and firearms offences in 2006 and 2007.

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Moment Piran Ditta Khan is charged with PC’s murder

‘A hero who paid the ultimate sacrifice’

PC Beshenivsky had three children and was stepmother to her husband Paul Beshenivsky’s two children from a previous relationship. Her widow and children watched as Khan was sentenced.

The court heard she was nearing the end of her shift and talked about how she was looking forward to her youngest daughter Lydia’s fourth birthday party moments before volunteering for the fatal call.

In a victim personal statement read at court, Lydia praised her mother as “a hero who paid the ultimate sacrifice”.

Lydia said she was “too young and innocent” to understand what happened and was told she “screamed her head off” after being told that her mother had died, although she has no memory of it.

WPC Teresa Milburn and Paul Beshenivsky, husband of the late WPC Sharon Beshenivsky, during a memorial service for the officer in Bradford. Pic: PA
PC Teresa Milburn and Paul Beshenivsky. Pic: PA

Read more: How fatal robbery unfolded

She said she was proud of her mother for “doing the job she loved”, adding: “There will always be a void in my life – a void that should have been filled with my mum’s presence but as a result of violent, callous actions by you, Piran Ditta Khan, and your associates that day, you robbed me of a future and precious time with my mum.

“Every birthday is a reminder of what happened that day. It has recently been Mother’s Day, and while my friends are celebrating with their mums, I sadly can never do that.”

Paul Beshenivsky, who had been married to PC Beshenivsky for four years when she died, said telling the children what had happened was “the hardest thing I have ever had to do”.

“The way we lost Sharon was in the most brutal, callous and futile way,” he said in a statement.

“If Piran Ditta Khan had never organised the robbery, Sharon would never have been shot dead and she would have come home that day.”

Botched robbery

Khan was the only member of the group who was familiar with the travel agency and had previously used them to send money to family in Pakistan, the court heard.

At his trial, Khan told the jury the owner owed him £12,000 and thought the men sent to recover the money would only “intimidate” the staff.

The Mercedes SLK connected to the robbery of the Universal Express travel agents in Bradford
The Mercedes SLK connected to the robbery. Pic: PA

A Mac 10 weapon.
Pic: PA
A Mac 10 used in the robbery. Pic: PA

Three men went into the travel agency, posing as customers before jumping over the counter and demanding money.

They struck several staff members with their weapons, tied their hands and threatened to “shoot the youngest” if they were not given cash.

The men initially demanded £100,000 before stating they wouldn’t leave without £50,000 and the business owner’s son managed to press an alarm which alerted police.

When PC Beshenivsky and PC Milburn arrived on the scene, the robbers shouted “the feds are here” and fled with around £5,400 after one of them gunned down the officers.

Piran Ditta Khan being taken into custody at Elland Road Police Station in April 2023.
Pic: PA
Khan being taken into custody in April 2023. Pic: PA

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The court heard Khan, who had told his accomplices they would make between £50,000 to £100,000, did not leave the safety of the Mercedes SLK, used as the lookout car.

PC Milburn said in a statement she and her colleague “didn’t have a chance” and described PC Beshenivsky “stopping in terror” as she approached the door of Universal Express and saw the gunman.

She was the seventh serving female officer ever to be killed in the line of duty in Britain and left behind her husband Paul, three children and two stepchildren.

‘A journey seeking truth and justice’

In a statement, her family said 18 November 2005 “is a date that will remain etched in our memories forever” and was the start of an almost 19-year journey”.

“A journey seeking the truth and justice for Sharon, who was not just a police officer, but a loving mum, wife, daughter, sister, and a friend to many,” they said.

“Our journey seeking justice and closure of the judicial process is now at an end. This journey has and continues to be difficult for us all.”

The statement added: “No prison sentence could ever compensate us for Sharon’s life and our loss, but we will move forward knowing that justice has been served.

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West Yorkshire Police Assistant Chief Constable Patrick Twiggs added: “For 18 years we have never given up on getting justice for Sharon and Teresa, and today their families have received that justice.

“Sharon was murdered in the line of duty, in what was a totally unnecessary act. Sharon was doing her job and protecting the public.”


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