Fury at sentence for Turk who murdered Leeds fans

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The Independent Online

The family and friends of two Leeds United supporters stabbed to death before a match in Turkey two years ago were angered and disappointed yesterday by the 15-year jail term given to the killer.

The sentence was handed down to Ali Umit Demir, a 21-year-old Turk, after his conviction for the murders of Christopher Loftus and Kevin Speight. It was half the sentence Demir had been told to expect if convicted and could be reduced by more than half again for good behaviour.

He has been remanded in jail since the case began in May 2000 and his lawyers said he hoped to serve only a further five and a half years.

John Howe, the lawyer for Mr Speight's widow, Susan, said yesterday: "On one hand she's relieved the case has come to a conclusion but another reaction was her concern about the leniency of the sentence.

"To a certain extent it is an irrelevance what sentence was passed in that it will never compensate her for the loss she has had to endure."

The trial has been prey to five adjournments since it began. A likely appeal against conviction must be lodged by the defence within a week.

Peter Ridsdale, the chairman of Leeds United, refused to comment on the case yesterday but friends of the victims were furious.

Roy Schofield, treasurer of Leeds United Supporters' Club, said: "Fifteen years sounds quite a serious sentence but ... that could be reduced with good behaviour to six years, in effect three years per person. You have to feel for the families, they have lost a son or father and three years for a life is not very much to pay."

Mr Loftus, a publican aged 37, and Mr Speight, a British Telecom engineer aged 40, were killed when Turkish fans clashed with English fans in Istanbul, where Leeds were due to play Galatasaray in the second leg of a Uefa Cup semi-final in April 2000.

Demir was the main suspect; he was the only one to have confessed to the stabbing and traces of Mr Speight's blood were found on his knife.

The defence claimed yesterday that he and others had been incensed by Leeds supporters who had dropped their trousers, urinated on their national flag and defiled Turkish lira bank notes.

Fuat Akkoyunlu, Demir's lawyer, said: "If I were to stand in the middle of Trafalgar Square and shout demeaning slogans while rubbing the English flag over my genitals I would probably be beaten out of there too. In the heart of Istanbul, they abused the Turkish flag. With broken bottles in their hands, they started the fighting."

The incident, he claimed, had taught foreigners to "respect Turkish honour".

But Iskender Tepebasi, presiding judge in a panel of three, indicated the court was unanimous that Demir had murdered Speight and voted 2-1 that he murdered Loftus.

The judges also sentenced four other Turks to three months and 22 days in prison for being involved in the fighting. Two other Turks were fined, one for concealing a knife used in the fight, and the other for being involved in it. A further 13 defendants were released because of a lack of evidence.

Demir, who had been a month into military service when arrested, was impassive as the verdict was read out. Dressed in a grey suit and flanked by guards, his last words to the judge were: "I have faith in your justice."

Turkish prosecutors had reduced the maximum sentence sought for him and the others from 30 to 15 years per murder conviction, because they could not establish if any defendant was solely responsible for the deaths.

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