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Eight men jailed for life after brutal murder of 37-year-old man

|News, Violent crime

Eight men have been jailed for life following the kidnap and brutal murder of a man they wrongly suspected of attacking a woman.

After a three-month trial, the jury found Khalil Awla, 48, Erion Voja, 21, Razgar Mohammed, 40, Alan Jaf, 52, Dean O’Neill-Davey, 30, Erland Spahiu, 34, and Martin Smith, 38, guilty of kidnapping and murdering Christopher Hughes in February last year.

Curtis Balbas, 30, had previously pleaded guilty to kidnapping Mr Hughes and admitted the murder after the prosecution case had concluded at trial.

Andrius Uzkuraitis, 27, was found guilty of assisting an offender.

On the evening of 17 February 2022, the group of men were actively looking for Mr Hughes as they wrongly believed he was responsible for an attack on a woman.

As well as searching the streets, the group also went to his house on two occasions, but Mr Hughes wasn’t home.

Around 4.30pm on the 18 February they finally tracked him down on Almond Grove in Wigan, a residential area.

Balbas and Spahiu jumped out of the car and punched Mr Hughes to the ground before forcing him into the boot of the Audi vehicle they were travelling in. Martin Smith remained in the back of the car.

Mr Hughes was murdered later that day and his body was discarded on the embankment on White Moss Road South.

Later that evening some of the group went to the same location in Skelmersdale and began digging a grave. They were disturbed by police cars in the area on an unrelated matter.

Mr Hughes' body was not discovered until five days later, around 11am on the 23 February 2022, when a dog walker alerted police to the body of the 37-year-old.

A post mortem confirmed Mr Hughes had 90 sharp force injuries to his head, neck, body and limbs. The vast majority of these were inflicted whilst he was still alive.

The pathologist concluded this was a sustained and very violent attack, where more than one weapon including a machete or hatchet, had been used to cause injuries to Mr Hughes.

The group made efforts to cover their tracks, they arranged for CCTV to be destroyed, they changed telephones, deleted messages and disposed of the Audi car that was used to transport Mr Hughes to Skelmersdale.

Rebecca Macaulay-Addison, of CPS North West’s Complex Casework Unit, said:” These men were responsible for the death of Christopher, in violent and terrifying circumstances.

“The Crown Prosecution Service worked hard with the Major Incident Team at Greater Manchester Police to build a strong case, pulling together all the evidence including eyewitness testimony, CCTV footage, forensic evidence, mobile phone messages and telephone location data, into a compelling case to place before the jury.

“My thoughts are very much with Christopher’s family who I know feel his loss deeply.”

The men, all from the Lancashire area,  were sentenced at Liverpool Crown Court on 9 February 2023:

  • Khalil Awla was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 26 years.
  • Erion Voja was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 23 years.
  • Razgar Mohammed was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 27 years.
  • Alan Jaf was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 26 years.
  • Dean O’Neill-Davey was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 25 years.
  • Erland Spahiu was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 35 years.
  • Martin Smith was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 33 years.
  • Curtis Balbas was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 34 years.
  • Andrius Uzkuraitis was sentenced to 6 years in prison for assisting an offender.

Notes to editors

  • Michael Gibbons was found not guilty of attempting to pervert the course of justice
  • The men’s dates of birth are as follows:
    • Khalil Awla: 01/01/1974
    • Erion Voja: 18/08/2001
    • Razgar Mohammed: 01/01/1982
    • Alan Jaf: 01/09/1970
    • Dean O’Neill-Davey: 12/08/1992
    • Erland Spahiu: 13/10/1988
    • Martin Smith: 02/05/1988
    • Curtis Balbas: 01/01/1992
    • Andrius Uzkuraitis: 12/04/1995

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