Timi Spahiu case: 'How can a man that did nothing now be serving 33 years?'
by Duncan Campbell
Around midnight on the morning of 14 October 2006, shots were fired in an Albanian/Kosovan club in Park Royal, north-west London. One man, Prel Marku, died from a fatal injury to his brain and two others were wounded. The shooting was the result of a feud between twogangsover who had the right to rob the parking meters of the West End.
The man who fired the fatal shots was Herland Bilali, who worked as a disco doorman, had a reputation for violence and was part of one of the gangs. He is now serving life for murder.
Accompanying him into the club was a young man, Timi Spahiu, who is also serving a life sentence. He claims that he had no idea what Bilali had in mind and that he himself never fired a shot. Hissupportersclaim he is a victim of the controversialjoint enterpriselaws and his will be one of the cases highlighted by a protest in Bradford later this month to draw attention to what campaigners say are serious miscarriages of justice. Under the "joint enterprise" doctrine a person may be convicted of a murder or manslaughter even if they did not fire the fatal shot or strike the fatal blow but were part of a group, one of whose members carried out the killing.
At the centre of the shooting was a turf war between rival Albanian and Kosovan gangs over the theft of cash from parking meters in central London, mainly in the borough of Westminster, which claimed to have lost £1,243,000 in one year alone as a result of the thefts.
Bilali had already been involved in a confrontation over the dispute.
Spahiu, who is 38 and was born in Kosovo, is married with two children but separated from his wife. He came to the UK in 1998 and was given permission to stay as someone claiming asylum. He knew Bilali but says that he had thought that the visit to the club was to be an attempt to sort out the dispute peacefully with a discussion between the two rival groups.
The club was for members of the Albanian/Kosovan community to meet, drink and play chess and cards and the two men were admitted after pressing the entrance door buzzer. According to witnesses, Bilali came in, shouted an obscenity in Albanian, pulled out a gun and started firing. Marku, the man shot dead, was an innocent bystander not involved in the parking meter dispute.
Spahiu said the first knowledge he had that Bilali had a gun was when they went into the club. "It was all over in a matter of seconds," he said later. "I turned and ran down the stairs ... I'd never seen anything like this before. I felt shocked, really bad." He said he asked Bilali why he had done it and Bilali said "They wanted to kill me, they had guns."
Both men fled, Spahiu to Salford. After a month he was arrested and told police that they were "100% wrong" about his involvement.
He then remained silent, he said, on the advice of his lawyer. Bilali escaped to Denmark so Spahiu stood trial at Snaresbrook crown court without him. He was convicted and jailed for life with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 33 years. Bilali was eventually tracked down, extradited, tried and convicted and is also serving a life sentence, with a minimum tariff of 34 years.
Deborah Madden, a friend of Spahiu, who has been campaigning on his behalf since his arrest believes that he is another victim of the joint enterprise law. "How can a man that did nothing — and all the witnesses say did nothing — now be serving 33 years?" she said.
Lawyers are now re-examining his case with a view to an appeal.