- Paul Bryan, 62, accused of murdering Roman Szalajko nearly 40 years ago
- Bryan is alleged to have stolen the identity of another man with the same name
A man accused of murdering a 63-year-old financial advisor almost 40 years ago and going on the run using a stolen identity is not the true killer, a court has been told.
Paul Bryan, 62, was arrested by police at Stansted Airport in London last November in connection with the death of Roman Szalajko, who was found stabbed to death at a flat in Seaton Close in Kennington in the south of the capital in February 1984.
Bryan, who denies murder, was linked to the crime after a cold case review carried out in 2013 found his fingerprint on a bottle of Polish mead that had been in a wardrobe at Mr Szalajko’s home, the Old Bailey was told.
Police had struggled to trace Bryan, who has spent the last 39 years living between the UK, Spain and Portugal – only to discover that he had allegedly stolen the identity of another Paul Bryan, a Welshman who died in 1987.
But lawyers acting for Bryan claim that he may have gone to the flat with another man, Antoni Strachota – and that he, rather than Bryan, stabbed Mr Szalajko.
Defence barrister John Ryder KC told the jury that Mr Szalajko was acting as a informal financial advisor to a wealthy friend named Mrs De-Lusignan – and Mr Strachota was her son-in-law.
Mr Strachota was trying to gain power of attorney over his mother in law’s finances but Mr Szalajko had advised her not to sign a document actioning it.
But the advisor was trying to help Mrs De-Lusignan buy a property in Spain for £18,000 and was himself taking advantage of Mrs De-Lusignan financially, the court was told.
Mr Ryder said Mr Strachota wanted the advisor ‘to keep his nose out’ of Mrs De-Lusignan’s business affairs and was the only person anyone had identified as his enemy.
He suggested Mr Strachota may have taken Bryan with him to Mr Szalajko’s flat to act as ‘intimidation’ as he was a large man.
The barrister claimed suggested that Mr Strachota may have had no intention to harm Mr Szalajko and just wanted to get some documents back and warn him to stay away from Mrs De-Lusignan.
He said Mr Strachota may have used a pocket knife to cut the telephone wire before stabbing Mr Szalajko with the knife in an argument.
He said the prosecution had taken too narrow a view of the facts.
Mr Ryder said: ‘And that has nothing to do with the officers who are present in court: it goes right the way back to 1984 when it may be that too many stones in this case weren’t turned over.
‘They didn’t at that time look sufficiently in my suggestion into the background to what happened to Mr Szalajko and those who may have been behind it.
‘Paul Bryan had absolutely no contact with Roman Szalajko prior to 8 February 1984.
‘There is nothing whatsoever to connect one with the other. Paul Bryan had no personal motive to hurt or to harm Mr Szalajko. Others did.
‘One of those who had a motive to harm him was Antoni Strachota.
‘I’m going to suggest the background to what happened was sordid and all too familiar, it was greed.
‘There was absolutely no evidence that anybody at all other than those circling around Mrs De-Lusignan, no evidence at all that anybody outside that group had any reason to harm Roman Szalajko at all.
‘He had no obvious enemies saving Antoni Strachota.’
Mr Ryder said that two men had been seen leaving the flats at around 11pm on 8 February 1984.
Bryan, of no fixed address, denies murder. The trial continues.