Gang of 13 convicted after man murdered in Tunbridge Wells
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Thirteen members of a criminal gang have now been convicted for their roles in a Tunbridge Wells robbery which led to a man being brutally murdered.
The men were all linked to a plot to steal cannabis plants from a house in Caley Road, where they were challenged by Xhovan Pepaj who was fatally stabbed.
Kent Police was called to a disturbance at the address during the early hours of 4 December 2021. Attending patrols found cannabis plants discarded along the road and leading up to the house.
Murdered behind gate
A locked metal gate, from floor to ceiling, initially prevented officers from accessing the upstairs of the building where Mr Pepaj had been left suffering multiple stab wounds.
Access was secured by fire crews and the 25-year-old victim was declared deceased at the scene. A bloodstained knife was found nearby but any suspects had fled.
Over the next 24 hours an investigation by the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate led to five arrests. In the weeks that followed eight further suspects were tracked down and detained.
The Crown Prosecution Service authorised charges against all 13 suspects, and due to the high number of defendants the case was split into two trials at separate courts.
The first trial was held in Loughborough. It was followed, on 18 May 2023, by sentencings at the Old Bailey and resulted in the following verdicts:
Ciaran Stewart, 20, of Curtis Road, Hornchurch, Essex was found guilty of murder. He had previously admitted conspiracy to commit robbery. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and will serve a minimum of 26 years (minus time spent on remand) before he can be considered for parole.
Kelvin Amoako, 18, of Norfolk Road, Ilford, Greater London was found guilty of murder and conspiracy to commit robbery. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and will serve a minimum of 22 years (minus time spent on remand).
Bartosz Malawski, 28, of Mitcham Road, Croydon was found guilty of murder and conspiracy to commit robbery. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and will serve a minimum of 22 years (minus time spent on remand).
Nathan Rainforth, 22, of Gloucester Road, Pilgrims Hatch, Essex was found guilty of manslaughter and conspiracy to commit robbery. He was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years.
Donte Simpson-Palmer, 19, of Evesham Walk, Myatts Fields South, London was found guilty of manslaughter and conspiracy to commit robbery. He was sentenced to six years.
Charles Reilly, 28, of Roman Road, Mount Nessing, Essex was found guilty of conspiracy to commit robbery. He was jailed for ten years.
Mohammed Miah, 26, of Highfield Road, Romford, Essex was found guilty of conspiracy to commit robbery. He was sentenced to six-and-a-half years.
Proceedings concerning the other defendants continued in the months that followed.
Ray Renda, 23, of Albany Road, Pilgrims Hatch, Brentwood, Essex pleaded guilty at Isleworth Crown Court to counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to commit robbery.
In July, a crown court trial was held for the remaining five offenders at the Law Courts in Brighton.
Jonathan Hedges, 26, of Walton Road, Romford, Greater London.
Nathan Turner, 30, of Myrtle Road, Warley, Brentwood, Essex.
Zach Cutting, 25, of Roundhills, Waltham Abbey, Essex.
Glen Hough, 52, of Larchwood Gardens, Pilgrims Hatch, Essex.
Fabian Szymula, 21, of Callan Grove, South Ockendon, Essex.
On Thursday 14 September, a jury found them all guilty of conspiracy to rob. They were found not guilty of manslaughter.
Szymula was also found guilty of perverting the course of justice, in relation to a note passed to a defendant in the first trial.
Sentencings for these six men will take place on 30 October at the same court.
Bragging and laughter
Detective Superintendent Gavin Moss said: ‘The brutal murder of Mr Pepaj was the result of a planned raid by an organised criminal gang, who travelled to Tunbridge Wells from Essex in three vehicles to steal large quantities of cannabis. ‘Things started to go wrong when associates of the victim arrived at the property and this quickly escalated with tragic consequences. Ciaran Stewart called 999 in fear of his life and was heard by the call handler shouting to Amoako to stab Mr Pepaj. The victim was repeatedly attacked with a knife and beaten and stood no chance of defending himself. ‘It says a lot about their mentality that as some of the offenders drove from the scene they appeared oblivious to the fact someone had just been murdered and instead filmed themselves bragging and laughing about the drugs they had stolen. ‘We have worked relentlessly to ensure every single offender involved in this incident has faced justice and the lengthy prison sentences reflect the senseless loss of life and needless violence associated with the supply of drugs.'