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Man cleared of killing young footballer Etem Celebi

PUBLISHED: 18:48 16 September 2010 | UPDATED: 11:11 14 October 2010

A MAN who was jailed for shooting dead a gifted young footballer has been freed from prison – after a jury overturned the conviction. Richard Harrison-Allen, 22, who was known as Scarface, was cleared of murdering 17-year-old Etem Celebi yesterday

A MAN who was jailed for shooting dead a gifted young footballer has been freed from prison - after a jury overturned the conviction.

Richard Harrison-Allen, 22, who was known as Scarface, was cleared of murdering 17-year-old Etem Celebi yesterday (Wednesday).

Etem, who played for the Islington Borough Football Club, in the Premier Division of the Islington Midweek League, at Market Road, Holloway, was shot in the back as he tried to flee a barrage of bullets aimed at his group of friends.

He was said to be a friend of X Factor star and former Ambler Primary School pupil Leona Lewis when he was shot dead in 2007.

In February 2009, Harrison-Allen was convicted of the murder at St Albans Crown Court and jailed for a minimum of 26 years.

But after a successful appeal to the High Court, Harrison-Allen was sent back to the Old Bailey for a retrial.

And after deliberating for five hours, the jury accepted Harrison-Allen's not guilty plea and acquitted him of murder.

Harrison-Allen, who gave a thumbs-up after the verdict, did not give evidence during the hearing. But his barrister claimed that he had been wrongly identified by two eyewitnesses.

The shooting was instead blamed on a prosecution witness who had refused to come to court to testify.

Jurors heard that Mr Celebi was affiliated with the Smalley Man Dem gang based in Smalley Close, Stoke Newington - and that he was killed when they were attacked by their Stamford Hill Man Dem rivals during a tit-for-tat battle over territory.

The incident happened at around 9.45pm on November 17, 2007, when Mr Celebi was standing with four friends on the pavement and two hooded youths approached and asked: "What ends you from?"

Although Mr Celebi and his friends tried to pretend that they were not from Smalley Close, the gunmen moved forward and started firing their weapons.

Mr Celebi tried to hide behind a car but was spotted and shot as he tried to escape.

Eyewitness Macail Thompson, Mr Celebi's childhood friend, watched the attack from his front window in Smalley Close.

Mr Thompson said: "He [Etem] was hiding outside my house behind my mum's car. I was looking out the window and one of the gunmen was right outside my house.

"Etem ran down the road and there was a couple of shots fired. I thought they were blanks. When I came out of the house, I saw him lying on the floor."

Six shots were fired in total - and the last hit Mr Celebi in the back, passing through his stomach and liver.

The eyewitness recognised one of the gunmen as Harrison-Allen by his street name "Scarface".

But Harrison-Allen's barrister, Michael Wolkind, suggested that the real killer was a man of similar appearance, who was captured on CCTV near the murder scene with a second smaller man.

Mr Wolkind added: "The two men on the CCTV are the killers. I want you to reject outright that anyone could be convicted on evidence like this."

Harrison-Allen, of Iveagh Close, Hackney, has gone through three trials for murder since the killing.

The first trial at the Old Bailey in 2008 ended in a hung jury. The second at St Albans in February 2009 ended in his conviction, which has now been overturned.


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