WARREN Polini wants to see education programs addressing domestic violence rolled out across Australia.
The Canning Vale Bravery Award winner says it would have helped him identify warning signs in the lead up to the violent murder of his neighbour Souad Benhammadi at the hands of her husband Messaoud Chiha.
There were red flags; on one occasion Souad came to Mr Polini crying and he assured her everything would be alright.
Souad allegedly complained her husband put a hose in her car tail pipe in an attempt to gas her.
Just days later, Chiha killed his wife of 20 years, stabbing her to death in front of their children, before turning on them.
Mr Polini described his relationships with his neighbours of five years as close.
Often when he was in the garden Messaoud Chiha would come over and join him, to have a chat and a joke.
“As neighbours we were very close, 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. She was a lovely lady and she and the kids were extremely close,” Mr Polini said.
Increasingly, Mr Polini noticed a growing anger in the family, something that could have come from its 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 tail pipe.
“I should have known what was happening; one day (Souad) came over and I gave her a cuddle out in the street and told her it was going to be alright,” 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).”
April 29, 2013
Mr Polini and a mate 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 and 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 then to my house where he sat on the couch… he heard a lot, he sat there shaking.”
What followed was “in slow motion”; time lost context and the trio were in a fight for their lives.
“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. Then I called out to Kylie to get the police,” Mr Polini said.
“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 x 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 and I thought ‘thank f— for that’.”
Youcef was left with gouges after his father attempted to claw his eyes 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– they’ve wiped him, he’s alone in prison but that was his call,” Mr Polini said.
Mr Polini and Malak and Youcef Chiha were each awarded a Bravery Medal for showing considerable bravery 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 says he wants more education and awareness about domestic violence so outsiders could spot the warning signs and can step in.
“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.
“They’re good kids, they’re gorgeous…they’re putting themselves through uni, they’ve been through hell and got back on their bike…it’s kids like them that change the world, and they will. Watch this space, as they say.”
Domestic Violence Helplines
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