Posted by News Express | 7 April 2014 | 3,956 times
A teenage thug was sentenced to at least 18 years behind bars for stabbing a rival to death in front of terrified shoppers just yards from the Olympic stadium on the eve of the Games.
The stabbing was the climax of a pitched gang fight which created “a horrific scene of complete bedlam” in the packed Westfield shopping centre.
Liam Woodards was stabbed in the chest on his 24 birthday after glasses and a yoghurt pot were thrown between the rival gangs.
As he lay dying, around 20 youths began fighting, throwing metal chairs and brandishing two knives.
Nii-Azu Kojo-Smith, 19, of Hackney Wick, a member of Arsenal’s coaching staff, was found guilty of the murder in June 2012 at the giant shopping centre in Stratford.
The jury deliberated for nearly 67 hours over 13 days before returning their verdicts on Friday.
Tony Caton, 22 of Stratford, was sentenced to three years and Anselm Legemah, 19 of Plaistow, to two years for violent disorder.
Five other defendants, including Caton’s elder brother Danny, have already been sentenced for various offences connected with the riot.
Judge Richard Marks QC sentenced Kojo Smith to detention at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, the youth equivalent of a life sentence.
The court heard he had been aged just 17 when he committed the murder – just six weeks short of being 18 when the starting point for such as tabbing would have been 25 years, rather than 12 in his case.
“You went out that afternoon with a knife and plunged it through the victim’s chest and caught him a second time on the chin,” said the judge.
“He fell to the floor and walked his last steps before collapsing a short distance away. He had been celebrating his birthday with friends.
“The shopping centre was full of men, women and children going about their lawful business. It was a horrific scene of complete bedlam as many members of the public ran for safety into cops which swiftly closed their doors.
“Those caught up in these appalling events must have been and were absolutely terrified.”
Opening the trial prosecutor Aftab Jafferjee QC had said it was not known if there had been a history between the two groups or whether the confrontation was “gratuitous and optimistic violence.”
But there had been “an atmosphere of menace” with “verbal posturing” between the two sides during the build-up.
At 4.20pm, the groups converged and after a number of exchanges, they moved towards some central stalls with Mr Woodards ending up amongst the rival youths.
Mr Jafferjee said there was little doubt that Mr Woodards had been “confrontational and mouthy” in the escalating atmosphere.
Kojo-Smith produced a knife as Mr Woodard moved away, said the QC.
“In an utterly disproportionate and lethal reaction, Kojo-Smith lunged forward and stabbed the retreating Liam Woodard in the chest.
“This was as needless as it was cowardly. Mr Woodard was an easy and mouthy target.”
•Source: London Evening Standard. Photo shows jailed Arsenal youth coach Nii-Azu Kojo-Smith.
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