Call for calm after English fan dies in Lisbon knife attack

Portuguese police appealed for calm last night after an England fan celebrating victory over Croatia was stabbed to death, allegedly by a homeless pickpocket in Lisbon.

Portuguese police appealed for calm last night after an England fan celebrating victory over Croatia was stabbed to death, allegedly by a homeless pickpocket in Lisbon.

Stephen Smith, a 28-year-old mechanic from Wolverhampton, died on his way to hospital after a scuffle with a man in the early hours of yesterday. He was stabbed in the chest.

Witnesses said the attack came after the suspect, a 31-year-old illegal immigrant from Ukraine, tried repeatedly to steal from a group of about 200 mainly English supporters. They said that the man had been circulating in the crowds on the Rua Augusta just a few yards from the central Rossio Square ­ the unofficial meeting place for England fans in the capital ­ for about an hour before they confronted him at about 3.45am. In the scuffle, the pickpocket allegedly stabbed Mr Smith once in the chest, apparently mistaking him for another man who had pushed him.

Mr Smith's parents John and Diane said yesterday that their son, who was on a round-the-world trip that started in April, had died "living his dream". In a statement, read by Superintendent Mike Treble outside Wednesfield police station, near Wolverhampton, they said: "Stephen ­ or Ste, as everyone knew him ­ was a hard-working man who would help anyone. Many of his friends referred to him as "Smiler''

"We, as a family, are just glad Ste was living his dream when this tragedy happened. He will be sadly missed by everyone who knew him."

Mr Treble said the "fanatical Wolves supporter" had left England to work in France, Spain, and then Portugal and was planning to carry on to Italy and Australia. "The grand plan was to finish on New Year's Eve in New York. This was a man with great ambitions who was trying to fulfil that dream."

The suspect, 31-year-old Vadym Abramov, appeared yesterday in a court in Lisbon. He was remanded in custody last night by a judge, pending a further investigation of the case. Police said that they believed he had lashed out with a knife after he was surrounded by England supporters. It was not clear whether Mr Smith had been robbed.

Isabel Canelas, a spokeswoman for Lisbon police, said: "The British could understand that he was trying to earn money by stealing wallets. Out of the blue, the Ukrainian citizen found himself surrounded by British citizens and is thought to have used a knife to stab the British citizen who died later in hospital."

Beat officers standing nearby pounced on the attacker as he tried to flee. Other police formed a cordon around Mr Smith as he lay outside the Casa Brasileira café, bleeding profusely.

There was anger among some of the fans, who said police could have prevented the killing had they detained the suspect earlier. Noah Haskell, 35, a delivery driver from London, said: "This scruffy-looking guy had been going around for up to an hour trying to pick pockets or steal from tables. Several fans complained to police and asked for then to act but they just watched. People were getting angry and one person pushed the pickpocket and another guy got stabbed."

Police said they were investigating witness claims that officers should have intervened more quickly. They said the suspect, who had lived illegally in Portugal since last October, was known to police, but had no previous criminal convictions.

Ms Canelas said: "This is in no way possible to be connected with Euro 2004." She added: "Lisbon is one of the safest European cities."

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