Hampstead property developer’s appeal over pregnant wife murder rejected

Robert Ekaireb

Robert Ekaireb - Credit: Archant

A multi-millionaire property developer serving life for killing his pregnant wife has had an appeal rejected - despite judges agreeing his barrister made an “ill-judged and unprofessional” speech at his trial.

Lihau Cao, whose body has never been found (Picture: Metropolitan Police)

Lihau Cao, whose body has never been found (Picture: Metropolitan Police) - Credit: Archant

Robert David Ekaireb, 41, of Hampstead, was jailed for at least 22 years in January last year after being found guilty of murdering 27-year-old dancer Li Hua Cao.

Although her body was never found, prosecutors said the developer and jeweller - who had an estimated £65m fortune - killed her in 2006 during a row at their luxury flat in Frognal Rise.

He moved out of the flat, had it refurbished and cleaned, and never returned.

The victim’s wedding ring was also discovered in a storage unit, and he did not report her missing.

At the Court of Appeal, Ekaireb’s legal team argued defence barrister, Michael Wolkind QC, was “incompetent” when he delivered his final speech to the jury.

Ekaireb’s appeal was today rejected by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas.

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Despite criticising Mr Wolkind’s speech, the judge concluded the trial was fair and the conviction “safe”.

However, Lord Thomas ordered that Mr Wolkind’s conduct should be referred to professional regulator, the Bar Standards Board.

Sitting with Mr Justice Openshaw and Sir Richard Henriques, he said: “We accept as amply justified the criticism made that it was ill-judged, patronising and contained inappropriate attempts at humour.

“It also contained observations about prosecuting counsel which were completely unprofessional – no advocate should have put these observations into a speech.

“However, it did not reach a level of incompetence that called into question the fairness of the trial or the safety of the conviction.”

The court also rejected Ekaireb’s appeal against his 22-year minimum jail term.