'This isn't Leeds. When you fight in Turkey, a man's honour means someone often gets killed.'

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The Independent Online

They came to watch a football match and they died in agony, stabbed in a foreign city.

You can still see the blood of Christopher Loftus and Kevin Speight on the pavement. But why were they killed?

Steve Wilkinson was with Mr Loftus when he died. Now he is sitting in a hotel lobby, his left leg full of stitches from a machete wound, his right hand in bandages from fending off the second blow of the knife - a blow that could have killed him.

"It was an ambush," he said. "They were waiting for us outside the bar, about 100 of them, all tooled up with knives and bits of broken furniture. This wasn't about football - it was Turkey making a statement against the British."

Lee Dawson, another Leeds fan, said he was threatened hours before the two men were killed. "I was in the bazaar," he said. "This guy said to me, 'Tomorrow I'm going to kill you, I'm going to stab you'."

From the street where Mr Loftus and Mr Speight died come other voices. "It was your lot who started it: the English," said Habip Kaya, who sells bus tickets on the streets from a flimsy wooden box. "I used to have a glass box," he said, "but the English fans took it last night and smashed it over a Turk's head. I'm not a Turkish nationalist, I'm Kurdish, but it was your lot who started it."

But his friend, Nurettin Demir, a shoe-shiner, disagrees. "It was the Turks who started it," he said. "I saw it with my own eyes. The English were swearing at them, but it was the Turks who threw the first punch."

Another voice, from Turkey's Human Rights Association, which has spent years accusing the state of attacking the rights of Kurds, said: "Visiting English supporters were beaten and mercilessly killed in Istanbul's most crowded and 'safest' centres, while police watched. We condemn this crime, which results from racism and barbarity."

But what really happened on that windy night in Istanbul, when the myth of "Welcome to Hell" became reality? All along Cumhuriyet Street, where the two Leeds fans were murdered, a code of silence reigns. "I didn't see anything," said the waiter at the Han restaurant, where some of the English fans, including Mr Speight, were drinking. "It happened somewhere else." But Mr Loftus died a few metres from the restaurant door, soaked in his own blood. It was shown on Turkish television.

The reaction on the streets is cool. People say it's terrible that the two men were killed, but there is no weeping or wringing of hands. The answer is the same everywhere: "I saw nothing." Even at the Aspen bar, where Mr Loftus and Mr Wilkinson were drinking, a waiter, nervous under the watchful eyes of a police officer, gives the same reply.

But one man saw everything, and told it. He was too frightened to give his name - people often are in Turkey. He is a young Kurd, wearing a Galatasaray scarf - the colours of the fans who murdered Mr Loftus and Mr Speight - and, like Mr Demir, making money polishing shoes. As people went about their business - catching buses, buying snacks - on the spot where Mr Loftus died only hours before, he told their story.

"I brought them to this bar," he said. "I thought I was getting them away from the trouble." In his wallet is the Yorkshire address of one of the Leeds fans - a friend made before the night ended in tragedy. "There was trouble in Taksim Square."

The central Istanbul square is a few hundred metres away. "There were a lot of Galatasaray hooligans, and they were having a slanging match with some Leeds fans - not the ones who died but some others. I saw the guy who died and his friends coming" - according to Mr Wilkinson, they had just left the James Joyce, a local Irish bar - "and I told them to come here, to Aspen. I thought it would be safe."

In the Aspen bar, Necattin Cak at first denied that Mr Loftus and his friends were ever there. But, pressed, he admits they were. "But they were good people. As they left I told them, 'The English and the Turks are brothers'." But Mr Cak still claims he saw nothing, "As soon as the fighting started I shut the shutters."

But the Kurdish shoe-shiner saw. "The police moved the Galatasaray hooligans on from Taksim to here. They were looking for trouble, and they threw the first punch. But it was the other Leeds fans, the ones in Han restaurant, who started it. They dropped their trousers and said things like 'That's Galatasaray,' or 'That's your mother'." Muslum Sundar, a waiter, confirms this. "They were throwing money around and swearing. One of them urinated on the street."

Rowdy, certainly, but not unheard of behaviour for drunken football fans in England. But in Turkey, swearing alone is much more offensive than in Britain. Just being drunk is frowned upon. The behaviour Mr Sundar describes is unthinkable - unless you are a foreigner who simply does not understand the country at all.

As Mike Gawthorpe, a fan who managed to avoid the trouble, said, "It's normal for the Leeds lads to have a bit of a fight at the end of the evening." English fighting: fists and broken noses. But it is not normal in Turkey, where people have easy access to knives and guns and male honour is still paramount. Most Turks will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid a fight, because they know that when you fight in this country, people often get killed.

But there are more sinister accusations wound up in the whole tragic tale of the murdered Leeds fans. "The police did nothing to stop the Turkish fans," said Mr Wilkinson. "In fact, they helped them. They were there from the start. When Darren Loftus was on his knees trying to resuscitate his brother Christopher, a policeman hit him in the head with his truncheon. Half my leg was hanging out but they took me to a police station before they took me to the hospital." No local would corroborate Mr Wilkinson's accusations.

But if it was the police who moved the Galatasaray fans into Cumhuriyet Street, how did they allow the violence to get so out of hand that Mr Loftus was killed on the street, and Mr Speight died of his wounds in hospital a few hours later? Mr Wilkinson and his friends say they identified Mr Loftus's killer at a police identity parade. "If he isn't charged we'll know there's no justice in Turkey," said Mr Wilkinson.