Gang kidnapped dad they wrongly suspected of rape and killed him

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Eight sadistic thugs have been jailed for life for the sickening adbuction and murder of a father they wrongly suspected of rape.

The vicious gang kidnapped and attacked Christopher Hughes, 37, bundled his body into the back of an Audi and dumped it along a country road. A court heard he suffered nearly 100 separate injuries, the majority of which were inflicted on his head, neck, body and limbs.

The vigilante gang believed Mr Hughes, who was a boxer, had raped a teenager at knifepoint behind a post office but this was untrue.

An investigation was launched after a dogwalker discovered Mr Hughes’ body on a grass verge and, today, the eight men were jailed for a total of 229 years. Seven of the thugs were previously convicted of kidnapping and murder following a lengthy trial at Liverpool Crown Court, while an eighth admitted the same charges.

Sentencing, Justice Mark Wall said: “The sense of outrage this (rape) allegation instilled in you all became a focused search for the culprit, in order to punish him. You spent the evening hunting down the man you thought responsible.

“It was persistent and organised. I have no doubt, had you found Mr Hughes that evening, he would have been attacked earlier than he was.

“I have no reason to doubt she was sexually assaulted. I have seen no evidence that Mr Hughes was responsible for any assault on her.

“I am prepared to accept that you all believed that allegation was true. But that belief does not begin to justify the attack on him.”

Mr Hughes was punched to the ground and bundled into the boot of the Audi A4 by Curtis Balbas, 31, and 34-year-old Erland Spahiu in February 2022, reports the Liverpool Echo.

The car then drove off with Martin Smith, 34, in the back, acting as a spotter, as Razgar Mohammed, 40, and 21-year-old Erion Voja patrolled nearby in a Mercedes. Balbas’ vehicle then travelled to the Skelmersdale area of Lancashire at speed.

CCTV footage captured the Audi entering a road, near Spahiu’s home, shortly after 4.45pm and leaving 20 minutes later, the horror attack having occurred in the intervening period.

A “burial party” consisting of 30-year-old Dean O’Neill-Davey, Spahiu, Voja and Andrius Uzkuraitis, 27, returned to the scene under the cover of darkness and began digging a grave on nearby wasteland using items including shovels, rubber gloves and bin bags – several of the items having been purchased from an Asda supermarket earlier that night.

John Elvidge KC, prosecuting, told the court the gang was disturbed by police, who happened to have been called to a crash in the vicinity, during this process. O’Neill-Davey was still “dressed in his grave digging kit”, including a pair of wellies, when he was spoken by officers but was ultimately allowed to go on his way as the burial attempt was abandoned.

The thugs then attempted to cover their tracks by destroying CCTV footage, changing their phones, deleting messages and disposing of the Audi. The car was taken to an industrial unit around 10 miles away near Wigan, Greater Manchester, where it was cut into pieces that were hidden away.

Balbas, from Wigan, pleaded guilty to murder and kidnapping. He was today jailed for life with a minimum term of 34 years.

Seven other conspirators were found guilty of these counts and were also handed life imprisonments. His brothers-in-law 52-year-old Alan Jaf, 48-year-old Khalil Awla, and Mohammed – who hail from the Kurdish region of Iraq – must serve at least 26, 26 and 27 years respectively.

Jaf and Awla – both from Wigan – were the joint owners of M6 Motor Garage in the Greater Manchester town, where O’Neill-Davey also worked. O’Neill-Davey, also of Wigan, will spend a minimum of 25 years behind bars.

Voja and Spahiu – who are cousins from Albania, the former having been visiting from his home in Croydon, south London – were given terms of 23 and 35 years respectively. Smith, from Wigan, was told he will serve at least 33 years.

Uzkuraitis, of Wigan, was acquitted of murder and kidnapping but convicted of assisting an offender. The 27-year-old was imprisoned for six years.

Mohammed, of Wigan, had also been the owner of a motoring business called Star Autos while Balbas and Spahiu had a shared business interest in a convenience store, Mini Express on Beech Hill Avenue. The pair were also said to have worked together repossessing vehicles.

Smith shook his head as he was sentenced, took a sip of water then threw his plastic cup to the floor. Meanwhile Voja ranted at the judge, saying: “I know myself.

“I’m no murderer. I’ll get my justice one day you t***.”

He continued his outburst after being led into the cells, where he reportedly began punching walls. Voja added: “I don’t give a f*** any more.”

Turning to Mr Hughes’ kidnapping, the High Court judge said: “It was a slick manouvre, taking only a few seconds to achieve. It was done in broad daylight in sight of members of the public.

“You then took Mr Hughes to a quiet spot, where he was killed. The killing was brutal and, in part, sadistic.

“Over 90 separate stab or slash wounds were found on his body. They were inflicted with at least two weapons – a sharp knife and a machete, or something akin to it

“The attack resulted in him receiving deep wounds and him bleeding for death. It would have been, for Mr Hughes, both humiliating and painful.

“The impact of the loss of Mr Hughes’ life and the brutality of your attack has been made clear to me. Christopher’s death is still keenly felt and obviously will be indefinitely into the future.

“He has left behind a young daughter who will grow up without knowing her father. Your acts were designed to circumvent justice and ensure your suspicions prevailed over fact.

“This is murder the seriousness of which is particularly high. It was a murder designed to obstruct or interfere with the course of justice.”

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