The man who murdered primary school teacher Sabina Nessa was reported to police for acting suspiciously hours before the brutal killing.
Koci Selamaj raised concerns at a hotel in Eastbourne, where he had booked himself in for the night despite living less than five minutes away.
At around 4.30pm, a member of staff at the Grand Hotel called 101 to report his strange behaviour, but they had no indication of what he was going to do and the police did not respond.
Just five hours later, he murdered 28-year-old Ms Nessa as she walked through a London park.
Metropolitan Police investigators said he booked a room at the Grand Hotel on 14 September, paying £325 for one night on the 17th – the day of the murder.
Selamaj, 36, arrived at around lunchtime, but was told that he was too early to check in and that his room was not ready.
A sentencing hearing at the Old Bailey heard that he appeared “agitated” while resisting a request to pay for the room up-front.
Prosecutor Alison Morgan QC said: “The staff considered that his behavior was odd and were concerned that his address was just eight minutes away from the hotel.”
CCTV showed Selamaj at the hotel’s front desk, wearing the same clothing still had on when he murdered Ms Nessa.
DS Mark Johnson told a press conference: “The staff were a little bit uneasy about him, they knew he lived up the road and wondered why he had booked a hotel so close to his address.
“They discussed it amongst themselves and a member of staff called the police to report suspicious activity.
“I think they were thinking more along terrorist lines more than anything else. They were just uneasy about him and they’ve given statements during the investigation saying that there was just something not quite right.”
Police said there was no direct reference to terrorism in the 101 call, and that the staff concerns focused on the payment dispute.
Detective Chief Inspector Neil John, who led the investigation, said he had listened to a recording of the 101 call.
“There’s no evidence of terrorism but the hotel staff were just uncomfortable with his demeanour, the fact he lived around the corner,” he added.
“I’ve listened to that call. As a police operator it’s a very difficult conversation to have, the police can’t be going out to everything.
“My opinion is the police operator did the right thing. They got them to explain the incident and there was no cause for any great concern at that time.”
The operator told the member of staff to make colleagues aware of the concerns and call police again if there was a change of circumstances, and they would re-assess.
Selamaj returned to the hotel at around 4.20pm and checked into his room, then left again shortly before 5pm.
A spokesperson for Sussex Police said: “Police were contacted around 4.40pm on 17 September to reports of a disagreement between a man and staff at a hotel in Eastbourne earlier in the day, around the payment of a room. The matter was resolved and the police were not required to attend. “
Ms Morgan said the prosecution believes that his decision to reserve a hotel so close to his home “is indicative of his premeditation to have some kind of sexual encounter that evening”.
Selamaj’s wife worked at the Grand Hotel and was living there at the time, after fleeing their home in fear for her life.
The Old Bailey heard that he had become controlling and then physically abusive earlier in 2021, hitting and throttling her.
At 6pm on the day of the murder, he asked to meet his wife and tried to convince her to have sex in his car.
She described him as “agitated” and refused, at which point he drove off. Selamaj first headed towards Brighton and Ms Morgan said he was believed to be “looking for someone to have a sexual encounter with”.
“He must have abandoned the idea of remaining in Brighton shortly after that, as thereafter the directional instructions changed and from 6.30pm they were directing the defendant towards the A27 going towards London,” the prosecutor added.
Selamaj drove around the M25 and up the A2 towards Kidbrooke, where he parked and walked into Cator Park.
He “skulked in the shadows”, armed with a metal warning triangle, for over 20 minutes before Ms Nessa walked past him on her way to meet friends shortly after 8.30pm.
“Unfortunately for Sabina, she had the misfortune of crossing paths with him,” DCI John said.
“It was a premeditated, sexually motivated murder.”
Investigators have not established why he selected the area, which he had no connection to and is not known to have previously visited, for his murder.
He then drove back to Eastbourne, disposing of the warning triangle in a river on the way, and returned to the hotel shortly after midnight.
Selamaj stayed in his room for the night, checked out in the morning and went to work in a garage as normal like nothing had happened.
He did not answer police questions in interviews and has not explained his motive.