Man denies involvement in the kidnap and murder of Wigan dad Christopher Hughes

A 34-year-old man accused of the kidnapping and savage murder of a Wigan father of one has denied the allegations.
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Erland Spahiu, who is on trial with eight other men, has told how after the victim, Christopher Hughes, was bundled into a car boot he heard him asking ‘what have I done wrong?’

It is claimed that the gang believed “rightly or wrongly”, that the 37-year-old was responsible for the knifepoint rape of a teenage girl.

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Spahiu told a jury that he was present when his business associate Curtis Balbas bundled the victim into the boot of a car in Almond Grove, Wigan.

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But he denied taking part in that kidnapping and said that after Balbas bundled Mr Hughes into the boot of Balbas’s Audi in Wigan he got out before he drove off and took the helpless victim to a country lane where he was hacked to death.

Earlier this week during the trial at Liverpool Crown Court 30-year-old Balbas, of Matheson Drive, Worsley Hall, dramatically changed his plea to guilty to murder. He had previously admitted kidnapping.

The jury has heard that Spahiu, an Albanian, Balbas, who is an Iraqi Kurd, and seven other men, who all face the same charges, had been engaged in a “manhunt” in the 24 hours before the killing of 37-year-old Mr Hughes.

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John Elvidge, KC, prosecuting, has alleged that the nine defendants, “Formed a team to track, trace and capture him. Each lent his assistance and encouragement to the others in support of their common objective. They may have played different roles in this joint enterprise but they all acted with the intention that Christopher Hughes should suffer really serious bodily harm.

“It does not matter which of them wielded a knife,” he said.

The body of Mr Hughes, who had bled to death, was found on February 22 this year - four days after the attack - lying on an embankment in White Moss Road South, Skelmersdale.

He had been hacked to death with at least two weapons, including a machete, and had suffered more than 90 knife wounds, most inflicted while he was still alive.

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Spahiu, formerly of of Uppingham, Skelmersdale, but now living in the same road where the murder took place, is alleged by the prosecution to have been involved in the attack on Mr Hughes and forcing him into the boot.

Spahiu, who worked with Balbas re-possessing leased cars, said that on February 18 he was a front seat passenger in Balbas’s Audi and another defendant, Martin Smith, known as Smithy, was in the rear.

He said that Balbas, with whom he had an interest in a convenience shop, Mini Express in Beech Hill Avenue, Beech Hill, suddenly jumped out on seeing two men walking along, without Balbas saying anything.

He said he saw him punch Mr Hughes once in the face knocking him backwards and unconscious.

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“I jumped out to see what was happening. I saw the boot open and I said, ‘What the **** are you doing?’”

He claimed he saw Balbas hit Mr Hughes four or five times while trying to close the boot on him and he twice asked him again, ‘What the **** are you doing?’

Questioned by his barrister Andrew Smith he agreed that he had not tried to physically stop him. “He said, ‘shut up, get in the car. I was in a bit of shock.”

He denied punching him or helping close the boot. “I was there but I did not encourage him or saying anything.”

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It is alleged that after forcing the victim into the boot the Audi stopped alongside the man who had been walking with Mr Hughes and Spahiu lowered the passenger window and threatened him saying ‘ keep your ******* mouth shut or you’re next.’

Spahiu denied he made the comments and said Balbas had leaned over him and made those remarks.

He said both he and Smith asked him to stop the car and Smith managed to get out at traffic lights. He said he kept asking Balbas to stop and he managed to jump out near the KFC on Ormskirk Road and Balbas drove off.

Further questioned Spahiu said that that evening he was at the Sherwood Drive home of one of Balbas’s sisters for her birthday party and while there another defendant, Alan Jaf, received a call from Balbas and told Spahiu that he had killed Mr Hughes.

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Asked by Mr Smith, Spahiu agreed that he became involved in the proposed burial of the victim and said he had a GPS app on his phone which enabled him to see where Balbas’sAudi had been.

Asked if he agreed to become involved in burying the body he replied, “yes.”

The court has heard the alleged burial party involving Spahiu, his nephew Erion Voja, who was visiting from London; Dean O’Neil Davey and Andrius Uzkuraitis, drove to the murder scene but were disturbed by police coincidently being in the vicinity.

Spahiu admitted he had lied to police when interviewed including vowing on his “kids' lives” that he was telling the truth, but maintained he was now telling the truth.

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Alongside Spahiu in the dock are: O’Neill Davey, 30, of Conrad Close, formerly of Bulteel Street, Pemberton; Martin Smith, 34, of Greenwood Avenue: Andrius Uzkuraitis, 27, of Holly Road, Worsley Hall; Mohammed Razgar, 40, of Plane Avenue, Worsley Hall; Alan Jaf, 52, of Ridyard Street, Worsley Hall; Khalil Awla, 48, of Greenwood Avenue, Worsley Hall and Erion Voja, 21, of Peall Road, Croydon, London.

As well as denying murder and kidnapping they also deny conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm.

Michael Gibbons, 47, of Bulteel Street, denies perverting the course of justice in the aftermath of the murder by providing false information to the police and helping O’Neill Davey dispose of the blue Audi car allegedly used to kidnap Mr Hughes.