WHEN Canning Vale’s Warren Polini looks back, there were warning signs that neighbour Messaoud Chiha would murder his wife Souad Benhammadi.
On one occasion, Souad came to him crying, complaining that her husband had put a hose in her car tailpipe in an attempt to gas her. Mr Polini assured her that everything would be all right.
Just days later on April 29, 2103, Chiha killed his wife of 20 years, stabbing her to death in front of their children, before turning on them.
Mr Polini described his relationship with his neighbours of five years as close.
Often when he was in the garden, Chiha would join him to have a chat and a joke.
“If I was doing gardening, he’d come over and give me a cuddle; he’d call me his Aussie son,” he said.
Mr Polini described Chiha as a hard worker but a man who could be heard disciplining his children from time to time.
Souad Benhammadi was a kind-natured woman, known to make food and sweets for her neighbours. She was close with her children, three of whom lived at home: then 18-year-old Malak, 16-year-old Youcef and Dheya, who was six.
“She was a gem. She would bring over her traditional sweets like our lemon tarts; they were beautiful,” Mr Polini said.
Increasingly, Mr Polini noticed a growing anger in the family, something that could have come from their immersion in the Australian way of life, a life different to that of their native Algeria.
“He was a nice bloke but it got to the stage where I think he was getting angry with his kids becoming too westernised and his wife becoming too westernised,” Mr Polini said.
In April, Souad Benhammadi came to Mr Polini distressed after Chiha allegedly put a hose in her car tailpipe.
“I should have known what was happening; I gave her a cuddle out in the street and told her it was going to be all right,” he said.
“He’d stuck a hose pipe up the back of her car and had done a few weird things. I hadn’t ever clocked to it and that was only a few days before (he killed her).”
Mr Polini and a friend were eating dinner when his partner Kylie heard a loud scream, then almost immediately, a knock at the door.
It was Malak asking Mr Polini for help.
“I went across (the road), I didn’t know what happened but when I walked in, there was blood everywhere, up the back of the door because she had tried to get out the front door and that’s where he got her,” Mr Polini said.
Souad had been stabbed by her husband.
“As soon as I knelt down to see what was happening with (Souad), I told Malak to get a towel and I tried for a pulse. Then (Chiha) came from the back area of the house with a glass vase that stood a metre tall and he smashed it on Youcef.
“In the far back bedroom, their little six-year-old boy was huddled in a corner in the cupboard, so we snuck him out the laundry door and over the neighbour’s fence to my house where he sat on the couch; he heard a lot, he sat there shaking.”
What followed was “in slow motion”.
“I got up, it was all happening in slow motion, and I tried to grab him, get the vase out of his hands and I took him outside,” Mr Polini said.
“Then I called out to Kylie to get the police. The old man then jumped away from me and he jumped the side fence and ran down the back. He got in with a 4×2 and was smashing Youcef again. We got him in an arm lock and he tried to kick (Souad) in the head; she was already lying on the floor in a pool of blood and I dragged him down and held him on the lounge.
“It felt like 20 years but then the police arrived.”
Youcef was left with gouges to his eyes after his father attempted to claw them out, while Malak sustained injuries after his father kicked her in the face.
Chiha was sentenced to a minimum 17 years in prison.
It is a time he will serve alone.
“(The kids) don’t talk to him, they don’t see him, communicate with him,” Mr Polini said. “They’ve wiped him, he’s alone in prison but that was his call.”
Mr Polini, Malak and Youcef Chiha were each awarded a Bravery Medal for their actions that night. Mr Polini says he did what anyone would have done.
He now has an unbreakable bond with Youcef and Malak, who still live in the same house.
“I can’t believe they haven’t sold it and bought somewhere else,” Mr Polini said.
“My cousin has his own landscaping business and Kylie and I landscaped the whole front yard; it was just a sand pit.
“People asked me why I did it and it’s because it was cleansing, I did it because I wanted to. I sat here crying some nights thinking ‘what can I do for these kids?’. They’ve got no one.”
Mr Polini wants more education and awareness about domestic violence so outsiders could spot warning signs.
“Every morning someone, mainly women, has been knocked around and it’s gone too far and I think what needs to happen is some sort of education program for people like me,” he said. “I didn’t pick up on what was happening over there, and I think the whole reason I did the garden was to make myself feel better because I could have saved their mum if I twigged to it; I beat myself up about that every day.
“Now those poor kids don’t have a mum.
“I could have done more, I could have stopped it all; that’s how I feel, I know it’s wrong but that’s just what I think sometimes.”
n Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline 9223 1188 or free call 1800 007 339
Men’s Domestic Violence Helpline 9223 1199 or free call 1800 000 599