A thief who beat two pensioners to death in their homes has been convicted of their murders 20 years later.

Michael Weir attacked Leonard Harris and Rose Seferian in 1998, the Old Bailey was told yesterday. He was found guilty of murdering Mr Harris in July 1999, but the conviction was quashed in 2000.

DNA testing connected Weir to both London attacks 20 years later, the court heard, and he was retried under the "double jeopardy" law. The landmark trial was the first to involve a defendant being found guilty of the same murder twice, and the first time a second murder charge has been added to a double jeopardy case.

Weir, 52, of Hackney, had denied two counts of murder.

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Prosecutor Tom Little QC told the jury the "defenceless pensioners" had been struck repeatedly and "left for dead".

Burly 6ft 2in bodybuilder Weir savagely beat Mr Harris, 78, and battered his terrified wife while he ransacked their North London flat on January 28, 1998.

Weir tied Mr Harris to a chair while he tortured his 81-year-old wife, who suffered from dementia. He stole a gold watch which Mr Harris had taken from a German officer during the Second World War and a gold signet ring.

Mr Harris, whose face was described as "completely black and blue", was found in his doorway by an estate agent visiting an adjacent flat. Mr Harris was conscious but he drifted into a coma.

Six months later he died and Weir was charged with murder after his blood found in a glove taken from the flat was matched with blood taken from him by police in a 1997 drugs investigation, which had been dropped.

Michael Weir, 52, faces up to 30 years in prison after being found guilty of two charges of murder. Photo / Metropolitan Police
Michael Weir, 52, faces up to 30 years in prison after being found guilty of two charges of murder. Photo / Metropolitan Police

But Weir's murder conviction was overturned in May 2000 due to a legal loophole which says DNA samples in an abandoned investigation must be destroyed.

The Crown Prosecution Service vowed to appeal, but lawyers were a day late putting in the papers. The blunder meant Weir, who had convictions for burglary, robbery, assault and rape, was released.

It was not until Scotland Yard reviewed the National Fingerprint Database in 2017 that officers discovered a link to a burglary just weeks after the attack on Mr Harris. Mrs Seferian, 83, was attacked in the three-bedroom flat in Kensington, West London, that she shared with her son and two daughters.

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She was savagely beaten as Weir ripped diamond rings worth a total of £100,000 (NZ$201,000) from her fingers.

The mother of three managed to raise the alarm and her son found her covered in blood and almost unrecognisable. She died a short time later on April 9, 1998.

A palm print was recovered from the flat, but police failed to match it to an identical one recovered from Mr Harris's property.

It was only when a match was found in 2017 that the CPS was able to bring the double jeopardy case. The law changed in 2005 to allow defendants to be retried if new evidence comes to light.

Yesterday Weir was finally convicted of his horrific crimes. The killer showed no emotion in the dock as he was convicted. Mrs Justice McGowan warned Weir he faced a life sentence with a minimum of 30 years before he can be released.

Detective Chief Inspector Shaun Fitzgerald, from Specialist Crime, said: "More than 20 years has passed since Leonard and Rose suffered brutal assaults which contributed to their deaths, 20 years of pain and continued grief for both families.

"Both victims had been able to live at home until the point of these attacks. It was undoubtedly Weir's actions which saw them both rushed to hospital and set in train the cause of their deaths."