Victim was ‘a prominent member of violent gang’

Crime:Latest news.
Crime:Latest news.

A UNIVERSITY graduate knifed to death yards from a children’s playground was a ‘prominent’ member of a ‘gang involved in violent crime’ in Sheffield, a senior judge has said.

And he warned 23-year-old Mubarak Ali’s death could ‘further stoke feuding and rivalry’ among groups in the city.

Mubarak, who had just completed a degree in sociology and criminology at Sheffield Hallam University, was stabbed twice in the chest on Mount Pleasant Road, Highfield, by James Knowles, aged 22.

His family and friends reacted angrily at Sheffield Crown Court when Knowles was convicted by unanimous verdict of manslaughter, but acquitted of murder.

Supporters stormed out of the courtroom and caused a disturbance which continued outside the building, where there was a brawl with police officers in the road.

The judge, Mr Justice Openshaw, said the violence which led to the killing had been ‘started entirely by Mubarak Ali and his associates’.

“However he may be regarded at home by his parents - who were no doubt entirely ignorant of such matters - I’m satisfied Mubarak Ali was a prominent member of some Somali gang involved in violent crime in this city,” he said.

He said Knowles did intend Mubarak ‘some really serious injury’ after he was ambushed in the Swarv barber’s shop, on Abbeydale Road, by a group including Mubarak.

But he added he ‘did not go out looking for trouble that day’.

“He went to the barber’s shop for the entirely innocent reason of having a hair cut,” he said.

The court heard Knowles ‘slashed several times’ with a blade at his victim, from Headford Grove, Broomhall.

Mr Justice Openshaw said Knowles had been ‘plainly recognised’ in Swarv by Mubarak’s younger brother, who alerted his sibling.

“Mubarak Ali then organised a raid upon the defendant in the barber’s shop,” he said. “He gathered together some henchmen who armed themselves with makeshift weapons.”

He said the gang ‘burst in’ and set about Knowles, making ‘quite serious threats to kill him and shoot him’.

But the judge said the killer ‘considerably exaggerated the nature and savagery’ of the attack. “It’s obvious the hostility was in some way founded on gang feuding.” Mubarak then followed Knowles, of Deer Park Road, Stannington, out of the shop, ‘continuing to abuse and threaten’, before being stabbed himself.

“The defendant went far beyond self-defence,” he said. “He must have collected the knife from his car was he walked back.

“He had managed to turn the tables on his attacker and eventually became the aggressor.”

Abbas Lakha QC, defending, said Knowles - dad to a child aged four - felt ‘genuine remorse’. He fled to Birmingham after the killing, where he was arrested a week later.

THE judge who jailed killer James Knowles knows only too well the heartbreak and pain felt by relatives of stabbing victims - after his own father was knifed to death.

Peter Openshaw lost his father William Openshaw – also a judge – in 1981 when he was stabbed to death by a man he had sent to borstal 13 years earlier for stealing. Judge William Openshaw was stabbed 12 times in his head, neck and back as John Smith, then 31, sought revenge for an 18-month stretch he served behind bars years earlier.

During his trial it was claimed Smith had been ‘full of hate and hell-bent on settling an old score’ when he hid in the judge’s garage in Lancashire and pounced as the judge was getting into his car.

Smith was convicted of the murder at Leeds Crown Court in November 1981.

Peter - now a High Court judge with the official title Mr Justice Openshaw - was a young barrister at the time of his father’s death. He said Mubarak Ali’s family have suffered ‘anguish and distress’ following his death.

MUBARAK Ali was slain on a hot, sunny day in broad daylight last September - but, despite a painstaking police investigation, the precise motive remains a mystery.

Det Supt Terry Mann, from South Yorkshire Police, told The Star detectives were unable to find a reason for the killing.

“Despite the investigation and the evidence that has come out in the court case, a motive has not been established,” he said. “We don’t know what this was about.

“Whether or not gang membership was a factor in this, who knows.” DS Mann added: “I am confident this was not a random attack.

“We’re pleased justice has been served, but take little satisfaction that another young man has lost his life, and another faces a lengthy prison sentence.”

Chief Inspector Iain Chorlton added: “South Yorkshire Police will continue to work with Sheffield Council and other agencies to monitor and improve community relations.

“Our aim is to reduce tensions before they spill over into violence but, as this case tragically demonstrates, this is not always possible.”