Locked up for life: Wanstead gang leader jailed over mistaken identity murder

Hamza Ul-Haq, from Wanstead. Picture: Met Police

Hamza Ul-Haq, from Wanstead. Picture: Met Police - Credit: Archant

Three gangsters, including a 21-year-old from Wanstead, who gunned down a young man in a case of mistaken identity were branded “selfish, cruel and stupid” as they were locked up for life.

Joseph Williams-Torres, 20, was shot dead by the members of the Mali Boys as he sat with a friend in a van in Walthamstow in March 2018.

His killers had been out to avenge the murder of one of their own, 17-year-old Elijah Dornelly, in May 2017 but got the wrong man, the Old Bailey heard.

The intended target was said to bear an "uncanny resemblance" to the victim and even wore an identical beanie hat to Mr Williams-Torres, who lived locally.

Following a trial last year, Hamza Ul Haq, 21, of Burden Way, Wanstead, Loic Nengese, 19, of Arkley Road, Walthamstow, and a 16-year-old - who cannot be identified for legal reasons - were found guilty of murder.

Prosecutor Allison Hunter QC said the Mali Boys had been involved in a bloody turf war with the Higham Hill or Priory Court gang as they tried to "assert their supremacy and control" of the area.

Following Elijah's murder, Ul Haq and a fourth defendant, Wayne Russell, had tried to break into the home of his 18-year-old killer, Ezra Abeka-Soares.

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The day before, Russell, now 21, had shot up an amusement arcade called Leyton Slots after he, Nengese and others stormed in looking for Morgan Mockford, also 18, who was later convicted with Abeka-Soares of Elijah's murder.

As the defendants appeared to be sentenced, Mr Williams-Torres's father Anthony Williams told of the heartbreak at losing a "kind and caring" young man.

Even at the age of 10, he showed compassion for others, giving his Daffy Duck cuddly toy to a younger boy to comfort him during a week-long school trip, Mr Williams said.

At the time of his death, Mr Williams-Torres had been planning a holiday to Sweden to celebrate his 21st birthday.

His father said: "Joseph was really happy about this trip. Nobody could have known that just a short time later the evil that was lurking around the corner meaning Joseph never reached his 21st birthday and never got to go to Sweden."

He said his wife Esther was "truly heartbroken" and her family in Gran Canaria and his in Liverpool continue to be affected by their loss.

He added: "This is all because of the selfishness, cruelty and the stupidity of those who gunned him down and took away his life.

"Joseph never deserved to die and we will never be able to forgive those responsible for doing it. There will never be a harsh enough sentence or punishment for what they have done. Our hearts are forever broken."

Judge Anthony Leonard QC jailed group leader Ul Haq for life with a minimum term of 28 years for the murder and seven years for attempted aggravated burglary, to run concurrently.

Nengese was locked up for a minimum of 21 years and the 16-year-old youth, who had apologised to the victim's family, was locked up for at least 18 years.

Russell, of no fixed address, was jailed for 16 years, having pleaded guilty to possession of a gun with intent to endanger life and attempted aggravated burglary with Ul Haq.

Mr Leonard said he accepted Nengese had witnessed the murder of his friend Elijah, which had "taken its toll", but added that he had refused to make a statement to police about what happened.

He said: "This was a planned expedition to kill a man. This was a murder committed for revenge in a context of a feud between gangs.

"The victim was murdered in a case of mistaken identity and even the intended victim appears to have done very little to bring this about."

Devi Kharran, from the CPS, said: "This was a targeted hit by three ruthless gang members who sought out the wrong victim.

"These killers were seeking revenge on a man who Joseph resembled, but Joseph was an innocent person caught in the middle of an east London gang feud.

"The prosecution case included CCTV evidence that unveiled the identities of the defendants after they ran away. The youth killer dropped his phone at the scene, allowing police to easily trace him. The firearm used in the murder was also linked back to the gang the killers were affiliated to."