Minimum 18 years for stab killer

A teenage footballer has been sentenced to at least 18 years behind bars for murdering a man during a "horrific scene of complete bedlam" at Westfield Stratford shopping centre just weeks before the 2012 Olympic Games.

Nii-Azu Kojo-Smith who has been jailed for the murder of Liam Woodards during a mass brawl at Westfield Stratford shopping centre just weeks before the 2012 Olympic Games.
Nii-Azu Kojo-Smith who has been jailed for the murder of Liam Woodards during a mass brawl at Westfield Stratford shopping centre just weeks before the 2012 Olympic Games.

The throwing of a yoghurt pot sparked the mass brawl between two gangs on June 29, 2012, during which Liam Woodards, who had been out celebrating his 24th birthday, was stabbed, the Old Bailey heard.

Budding Arsenal coach Nii-Azu Kojo-Smith lunged forward and stabbed him in the chest in front of horrified shoppers.

As the victim lay dying, the fight moved on to Stratford Tube Station where one of Mr Woodards's friends stabbed one of the opposing group.

Following a three-month retrial, Kojo-Smith, 19, of Hackney, east London, was found guilty of Mr Woodards's murder by a majority of 11 to 1.

The court heard that Kojo-Smith had a previous conviction for battery and threatening behaviour in 2010 after he was involved in a group attack on a passenger at Finsbury Park Tube station.

In mitigation, the court heard he was a talented young footballer who was involved in coaching at Arsenal.

His lawyer Philippa McAtasney QC said: "He was a talented footballer. He had obtained an FA1 coaching certificate and his future was set - all of that thrown away in a second of his behaviour."

She said he knew what he did was "very wrong" and saying sorry to the victim's family was not enough.

Detaining Kojo-Smith for a minimum of 18 years, the judge Richard Marks QC said: "The shopping centre at that time was full of men, women and children going about their business.

"It was a horrific scene of complete bedlam as many members of the public ran for safety into shops which swiftly closed their doors.

"It was readily apparent that those caught up in those appalling events must have been and were absolutely terrified."

The court heard much of the fight was captured on CCTV which was shown during the trial.

Co-defendant Tony Caton, 22, of Stratford, was convicted of two counts of violent disorder and Anselm Legemah, 19, of east London, was convicted of one count of violent disorder.

Caton was handed three years in jail while Legemah, whose girlfriend was heavily pregnant at the time, was sentenced to two years in a young offenders institution.

The judge praised the victim's parents for their dignified conduct throughout the trial.

He said: "The parents of Liam Woodards have attended every day of the trial. They have earned the respect of the court by the fact they have conducted themselves with dignity throughout in what must have been a shocking ordeal.

"I express hope the conclusion of the trial will bring them some closure."