Three guilty over gang turf war shooting murder

Three gang members have been found guilty of murdering an innocent man who was shot dead by mistake during a bloody turf war.

Joseph Williams-Torres, 20, was targeted by three hooded youths as he sat in a van with a friend in Walthamstow, east London, on the evening of March 14 last year.

The attackers mistakenly identified Mr Williams-Torres as a member of a rival gang, pulled out a gun and fired, before running off in less than two minutes, jurors heard.

The victim was hit in the chest and legs. He died on the way to hospital less than an hour later.

Prosecutor Allison Hunter QC told jurors the shooting was part of a series of related and “retaliatory” acts of violence that had its roots in a dispute between rival groups of youths.

Hamza Ul Haq, 21, Loic Nengese, 19, and a 16-year-old, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, denied murder but were found guilty following a trial.

Ms Hunter said the defendants were friends who were associated with the same gang which had become increasingly confrontational and angry since the murder of one of their own, Elijah Dornelly, in May 2017.

Elijah Dornelly murder
17-year-old Elijah Dornelly was murdered in Walthamstow High Street in May 2017 (Met Police/PA)

They were engaged in a “turf war” with other gangs, jurors heard.

In November 2017, Ul Haq had been squirted with acid and another boy was stabbed by a group of masked hooded males in Walthamstow, the court heard.

Ul Haq presumed it was gang rivals as they set out to avenge the attack on March 14, jurors were told.

Ms Hunter said: “Joseph Williams-Torres, however, was murdered by mistake.

“It was undoubtedly a ruthless and planned attack on a rival group member, but he was not the intended target.

“They had, it would appear, mistakenly identified him for another.”

She said the intended target was the same height and build and even wore the same beanie hat as Mr Williams-Torres, who lived locally.

Jurors were told how the defendants were captured on CCTV cameras and the youth dropped his mobile phone at the scene.

Joseph Williams-Torres murder trial
A mural of Joseph Williams-Torres, 20, on Forest Road, Walthamstow, near to where he was shot and killed as he sat in a car (Emily Pennink/PA)

Ul Haq, of Manor Park, and Nengese, of Walthamstow, denied being the attackers caught on CCTV.

The youth admitted being at the scene but declined to name who he was with, saying it was not his co-accused.

He claimed he thought it was going to be a robbery and did not know anything about a gun.

Following their convictions, Judge Anthony Leonard QC remanded the defendants into custody to be sentenced on January 10.

Ul Haq will also fall to be sentenced for attempted aggravated burglary.

The family of Mr Williams-Torries wept as the verdicts were delivered and hugged the prosecution team as they left court.

Mr Williams-Torres was said to be a popular young man with “a loving, close and hardworking family“.

His father Tony said in a statement: “What we all know is Joseph had not wronged anyone, he was not the intended target of his killers and as the evidence suggests this was a case of mistaken identity.”

His son lost the chance to have children and be an uncle because of the “selfishness, cruelty and the stupidity” of his killers.

His father said: “When they took Joseph’s life, they didn’t consider how their selfish actions would affect, hurt and destroy so many people. Not just their target Joseph but the family and friends of Joseph and now their own family and friends should justice be served. They only thought about their own agenda.

“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.”

Detective Sergeant Ian Valentine, of Scotland Yard, said: “Joseph’s murder was the result of ongoing retaliation and tit-for-tat incidents between rival gangs. Joseph wasn’t a gang member but sadly that night he was mistaken for someone else.

“The evidence heard by the court is a very sad tale of a group of young men caught up in gang violence and drugs activity, armed with guns and knives attacking others in a frankly shocking display of behaviour.

“Many lives in this case, and others, are being destroyed by gang violence. We need to turn the tide.”