Escape from war to a senseless death in Britain

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The Independent Online

After years of struggling, Stevens Nyembo-Ya-Muteba could have been forgiven for feeling his efforts had started to pay dividends.

Having fled his war-torn homeland in search of a better life in Britain, Mr Nyembo-Ya-Muteba, 40, had endured living in an asylum-seekers' hostel and a rundown tower block.

He had worked in the kitchen of a West End restaurant and in a supermarket depot in order to bring his wife Veronique ­ or Bijou, as he called her ­ over from the Democratic Republic of Congo and finally restart his university studies.

His patience and hard work were rewarded when he was offered a place to study maths at Cambridge University. Despite choosing to study closer to London for the sake of his family, his success caused delight in his old north London college, where he became the first student to make it to such a prestigious university from an access course. He was held up as a role model and told friends he had been given "no chance" of realising his goal by doubters. "But I believed in myself and I got what I wanted," he said.

This year his family's future looked secure when he received a British passport.

The family had moved to a smart new square championed by local politicians as one of London's most successful regeneration projects. Just yards from their flat was a small parkland, where Mr Nyembo-Ya-Muteba could take his two little girls, Debbie, seven, and Sheridan, three. But the reinforced security door and CCTV camera on the block of flats was symptomatic of a problem which simmered beneath the supposed urban ideal.

According to local people, in the past two years, as police and Hackney Borough Council led an operation to close down dozens of crack houses around it, the Nyembo-Ya-Mutebas' building had been singled out by a gang of youths. Neighbours complained to police of teenagers urinating in the corridor and of aggressively defying any challenge.

On Sunday evening Mr Nyembo-Ya-Muteba stood up to such antisocial behaviour and paid for it with his life. The devout Christian confronted a group of youths and asked them to quieten down. He ushered them out but one or more returned and stabbed him.

Friends said yesterday that his widow was inconsolable, unable to break the news to her daughters. Mr Nyembo-Ya-Muteba's cousin, Gilbert Amisi, 49, said: "He loved his wife so much. He loved his daughters so much. He wanted a good education for them. He was always smiling. He helped everybody and everybody respected him."

The son of a director of Gecamines, the Congolese state-owned mining company, Mr Nyembo-Ya-Muteba had grown up in Katanga, an eastern province of the Congo. That area has been torn apart by a conflict that has killed four million people since it began nearly a decade ago.

In his twenties he moved to the capital, Kinshasa, to study engineering. There he met Veronique and soon married. In 1998, he sought asylum in the UK, eventually saving enough to bring his bride over. The couple moved into the housing association flat in Evergreen Square four years ago.

Mr Nyembo-Ya-Muteba worked as a chef's assistant in Marco Pierre White's Criterion restaurant in central London before becoming a driver at a Tesco depot. After studying at the College of North East London, he took a BSc in Maths and Business at the University of Greenwich.

Four male youths aged between 15 and 17 years old have been arrested in connection with the murder and are in custody at police stations in east London.