Seven men have today (23 January) been convicted of the vicious murder of Wigan man Christopher Hughes.
They were all also convicted of kidnapping the 37-year-old, who was snatched off the street in broad daylight and bundled into the boot of an Audi before being driven off to his death. The jury of eight men and four women at Liverpool Crown Court returned their unanimous verdicts following just over 34 hours of deliberations.
The court heard during the trial, which began on October 20, that over 24 hours the gang ruthlessly hunted down Mr Hughes, whom they wrongly suspected of the knifepoint rape of a teenage girl behind a post office in Ridyard Street, Wigan. He was finally spotted in Almond Grove, Wigan, on February 18 last year and was swiftly abducted by Curtis Balbas - who changed his plea to guilty to murder during the trial - and Erland Spahiu.
The former boxer was driven to White Moss Road South, Skelmersdale, where he was viciously stabbed to death, suffering more than 90 stab wounds. His body was left at the foot of the embankment on White Moss Road South before being spotted by a dog walker four days later.
On the evening of the killing, Dean O’Neill Davey, Andrius Uzkuraitis, Spahiu and his cousin, who was visiting from London, Erion Voja, had formed a burial party to hide the body, said John Elvidge, KC, prosecuting. They were digging a grave on nearly wasteland when they were disturbed by police cars who were investigating a road traffic accident nearby and they abandoned the burial.
Balbas, 30, of Matheson Drive, Worsley Hall, had pleaded guilty to the kidnap before the trial began. 34-year-old Spahiu, of White Moss Road South, Skelmersdale, told how the helpless victim could be heard in the boot after his kidnapping asking, ‘What have I done wrong?’
But Spahiu claimed that after his business partner Balbas bundled Mr Hughes into the boot of his Audi he got out before the car drove off.
Those convicted by the jury of murder and kidnapping are Spahiu; O’Neill Davey, 30, of Conrad Close, formerly of Bulteel Street, Wigan; Martin Smith, 34, of Greenwood Avenue: Alan Jaf, 52, of Ridyard Street, Worsley Hall; Khalil Awla, 48, of Greenwood Avenue; Mohammed Razgar, 40, of Plane Avenue, Worsley Hall, and Voja, 21, of Peall Road, Croydon, London.
Uzkuraitis, 27, of Holly Road, Worsley Hall, was cleared of murder and kidnapping and conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm but was convicted of assisting an offender.
Michael Gibbons, 47, of Bulteel Street, Wigan, who has only faced two charges of perverting the course of justice, was acquitted of one of the offences but the jury is still considering the second charge against him.
Those convicted have all been further remanded in custody. It is anticipated a date for their sentencing will be decided tomorrow.
When Christopher died, his mum Susan issued a tribute, saying: “He will leave a part in the family that can never be filled.”