CUDDLED up on the sofa, Natalie Queiroz smiled as her lover Bobby tenderly stroked her pregnant stomach – completely unaware he was plotting to murder her.
In less than 24 hours, Babur 'Bobby' Karamat Raja, 41, stabbed eight-months-pregnant Natalie multiple times with a 12-inch knife, in a frenzied attack she was lucky to survive.
The assault was so brutal Natalie was left with a severed artery and holding her intestines in her hands on the street.
She still struggles to understand how he could have been planning such an horrific crime, recalling: "He had his head on my lap and was chatting to our baby just as he did on so many evenings together, but now I know that all along he was planning to kill us both."
Bobby pounced on the 42-year-old in broad daylight, stabbing her 24 times in the chest, stomach, arms and even attempted to slash her throat.
She was lucky to survive – as was her baby daughter Leah* – and now, more than two years on from the ordeal, she has written Still Standing, a book chronicling the chilling story of the ultimate betrayal.
'He told me I had nothing to worry about while hatching his plan'
"The morning he tried to kill me, Bobby cuddled me in bed and told me he loved me," Natalie reveals to the Sun Online. "I have replayed those moments time and again, asking myself was there something I didn’t notice."
In fact there was – during their investigation, the police discovered the lengths Bobby had gone to to plan the attack.
He placed a rucksack stuffed with a disguise, a change of clothes and shoes and a bin bag for bloodied clothes in his car in the days before.
Natalie adds: "That's one of the hardest things to come to terms with. Did I ever really know him?"
'He told me he loved me – then tried to stab me to death'
The morning of his murderous attempt unfolded like any other: as Bobby left for work he kissed Natalie and her daughters goodbye – shouting to them that he loved them.
Later that morning, Bobby rang to ask Natalie if she would accompany him to a bank appointment, asking to pick her up in the car – but Natalie insisted she would walk.
"He strangely asked: ‘If you did walk which way would you go’," Natalie recalls. "I remember joking and calling him a stalker. He insisted he would pick me up but when he didn’t arrive I left home to walk and called him. He said he was stuck in traffic."
In reality, he was already parked in Sutton Coldfield town centre – in disguise – ready to pounce on his unsuspecting pregnant lover as she made her way down an alleyway leading to their meeting place.
"I heard footsteps behind me and then I was jumped," she explains. "I thought I was being mugged but he pulled out a 12-inch carving knife and put it straight into my chest. I looked down and saw blood pouring out of me."
"I just remember his hand repeatedly coming down and I couldn’t break free," Natalie says of the attack, which was stopped when two strangers who, hearing Natalie's screams, stepped in and wrestled Raja off his terrified girlfriend.
"At that point I glimpsed his face and I realised it was Bobby," she remembers. "My first thought was that he had come to save me – but then I saw the knife in his hand. I couldn’t process what was happening."
Three foot patrol police officers were soon on the scene and on hot pursuit of Natalie's attacker, but by then she was already close to death: bleeding profusely, her right lung had collapsed and her intestines were hanging outside her stomach.
"All I could think about were my kids and my unborn baby. I remember thinking 'I can’t die, I can’t die'."
'My life fell apart in one moment'
The arrival of the air ambulance – and a breast implant protecting her heart – saved her life.
She was taken straight into theatre where for the next five hours surgeons battled to both save her and safely deliver her baby.
Natalie was in a medical coma for the following 24 hours after the attack – and awoke to the joyful news that she had a daughter.
"They told me she was very poorly but she was alive," she says. "I was so happy and grateful."
But what she heard next was more chilling: her baby’s father was in custody, charged with attempted murder.
"I think that was when my life fully fell apart," she says. "I had no understanding as to why the hell this happened."
It is an answer she would only learn at Raja’s court case two months later: pleading guilty to attempted murder, his defence barrister told Birmingham Crown Court that the turmoil created by his conservative mother’s ultimatum that he must choose between her and his partner had led to mental illness.
A whirlwind romance
Natalie was a recently separated mother of two daughters, Emily and Isobel*, when she and "caring, handsome and genuine" Bobby – a successful director of a specialist car repair firm – found each other online in 2015 – but they'd known each other much longer.
"I’d known him since he was 15 – I’d actually dated one of his best friends," she recalls, noting that while their lives diverged over subsequent years, when Natalie’s marriage broke down they reconnected on Facebook.
"As far as I was concerned, when we met up for a drink, it was just meeting up with an old friend – but there was an attraction between the two of us that I hadn’t expected and we kissed," Natalie says.
Their relationship developed quickly. "Within a couple of weeks Bobby declared he loved me. It took me by surprise – I was still getting over my divorce – but we had something special," Natalie recalls.
Though there was one shadow hanging over things: Bobby’s mother, a strict Muslim, had wanted him to marry into his own religion – and Bobby claimed she wanted nothing to do with the then mum-of-two.
"His mum had repeatedly tried to make him have an arranged marriage," says Natalie. "He refused, and said his mum would have to accept me and that I had nothing to worry about."
Bobby's trouble with his mum didn't slow their relationship down – by July 2015 the couple had moved in together and just weeks later Natalie learned she was pregnant.
In Natalie’s mind, it made the quest to meet Bobby's mother and reconcile their differences all the more urgent.
But it was against this backdrop that Bobby hatched his sickening plan: rather than end his relationship with Natalie and go with his mother's wishes, he would kill both her and their baby.
He was sentenced to 18 years in prison – justice of a kind. Yet for Natalie it was not enough. She wanted to look him in the eye and ask him why.
In June 2017 her wish was granted when she was allowed to visit him in HMP Birmingham.
"He tried to claim he didn’t remember anything but I knew that was rubbish," says Natalie. "He told me I was his world but what struck me was how calm he was. He was eerily detached. When I walked away I knew I would never see him again."
Yet the legacy of Bobby’s brutal attack lingers on – in the scar tissue dotted over Natalie’s body, in the left hand she cannot use properly, and in the flashbacks and nightmares that still dog her.
And of course, there is her ‘cheeky, strong, independent’ daughter. "I can’t get away from the fact that Leah is his but I feel so blessed to have her and she and my sisters inspire me every day," says Natalie, who now works for a children’s charity and undertakes talks in schools to support anti-knife crime campaigns.
And, despite her worry that she could never trust again she has also found new love with a businessman called Simon.
She concludes: "Despite everything that happened I know how lucky I am – and I’m so grateful to all the people who helped save my life."
Still Standing is published by John Blake Publishing, £8.99.
* Names have been changed to protect identities.
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