Yemi Hughes, 38, from south London, bravely tells the story of how her precious son was killed...

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Standing at the front of the classroom, I took a moment to calm myself.

‘Fabio, stop acting up and finish your work,’ I said firmly.

As a Design Technology teacher at Shirley High School in Croydon, I know there are always troublesome students.

But, at 13, Femi Cela – known as Fabio – was the most disruptive boy in my class.

He’d talk back, distract classmates.

I had three boys of my own – Andre, Ashley and Amari – so I knew what teenage lads were like. But Fabio seemed different.

He wasn’t just cheeky – he had no absolutely respect at all.

In time, Fabio left school and I didn’t think I’d see him again.

But, one day, I came home from work to find Andre, then 17, having a meal with some mates.

‘Hello, Miss,’ one said to me.

It took me a while to recognise Fabio Cela, now also 17.

‘Hello,’ I said coolly. Then… ‘Andre, can I have a word?’

We went into the next room.

‘What’s that boy doing in our house? He’s bad news,’ I said to him sternly.

Andre and I were more than mother and son, he was my friend, too.

An aspiring football coach and rapper, he had his whole future ahead of him. So, even though he was a young man now, I didn’t want him getting mixed up with Fabio Cela and his lot.

‘Don’t worry, Mum, he’s not a bad boy any more,’ Andre reassured me.

I wasn’t convinced.

‘I don’t want him here,’ I told Andre.

Fabio Cela (Photo: Metropolitan Police)

I didn’t want them to be friends, full stop. And Andre soon learned for himself that Fabio Cela wasn’t the sort of person with whom he should hang out.

As the time rolled by, Andre told me that he and Fabio Cela had fallen out.

Fabio was seeing a girl who’d been a friend of Andre’s since he was 11.

‘He doesn’t treat her right,’ Andre told me, saying Fabio Cela was a controlling boyfriend.

I wasn’t surprised to hear it.

But when Andre told me that there’d been violent clashes between Fabio’s friends and his, I worried.

Rightly so…

In July last year, I got a call from Andre.

‘Mum,’ he said frantically. ‘You need to come now!’

He told me that he was at a local shop – and, as I jumped in the car, my blood ran cold.

When I arrived, Andre was with a friend who had blood gushing from his face.

‘He was shot, Mum,’ my boy told me, shaken.

We took him to hospital.

Fortunately Andre’s friend wasn’t badly hurt. But he could have been killed.

The police came, took statements.

Five days later, I awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of windows smashing outside.

‘Mum!’ Andre shouted as he ran into the room.

It was some of Fabio’s associates. They were smashing up my car – a warning to Andre to stay out of Fabio’s business.

We were all terrified. Ashley was 14 and Amari just 8.

I called the police, but the men had fled. I began to live in fear of what would happen next.

‘We aren’t safe here,’ I told Andre, worried.

‘I know, Mum,’ he said in tears. ‘I never meant for this to happen.’

This fallout with Fabio Cela was putting us all in danger, and Andre felt terrible. But I didn’t blame him, he’d just been looking out for his friend. Now things had got out of hand…

I got in touch with the council and, within days, they found us emergency accommodation in Kent.

It was sad to move away from our home, but necessary.

We settled in and felt safe again. But it was the summer holidays and all the boys missed their mates.

‘You’ll make new friends when school starts,’ I told Ashley and Amari. But I missed friends and family, too.

After four weeks, I decided to arrange a night at my sister’s house in Croydon.

Halfway into the car journey, Andre asked me to drop him at the estate where we used to live.

‘Why?’ I asked, worried.

‘I just want to see my old friends, Mum,’ he said.

I dropped him off – I knew if I didn’t, he’d get there on his own. He was an adult, after all.

‘I’m letting you out with a heavy heart,’ I told Andre.

‘I love you, Mum. I’ll be OK. I’ll see you later,’ he said.

The rest of us set off for my sister’s place. I hoped I was worrying over nothing.

But, within half an hour of arriving, I had a phone call from one of my old neighbours.

‘Yemi, there’s been a stabbing on the estate!’ she said – though she didn’t know who was hurt.

I did. My mother’s instinct was screaming it was Andre…

I raced down to the estate but it felt like the longest drive ever.

My friend ran over to me, confirming my worst fears.

‘It’s Andre!’ she said. ‘He’s been screaming for you.’

I hurried over to where Andre lay on the ground, but the police stopped me before I could reach him.

‘He’s gone into cardiac arrest,’ one officer said.

An ambulance took Andre to St George’s Hospital in south London where I waited for hours for news.

Please, don’t die, I begged…

Finally, a doctor came out.

‘I’m so sorry,’ he said. ‘We couldn’t save him…’

My legs gave way and I crumpled to the floor. I was in pieces.

My mind went to my other boys at my sister’s.

I called them, tried to break the tragic news.

‘We know, Mum,’ Ashley told me shakily. ‘It’s all over Facebook.’

Alone at the hospital, my sorrow quickly turned to rage.

‘Fabio Cela is behind this,’ I told the police.

It made me sick to think the boy I’d taught, who’d eaten at my table, killed my son.

Within days, Cela and three others – Jamell Lonergan, Rodney Mukasa and Ali Zahawy – were arrested.

Ali Zahawy (Photo: Metropolitan Police)

The boys and I muddled through, missed Andre so much.

I was haunted that he was crying for me as he lay dying. If only I’d never dropped him off that day… If only we’d never gone back to Croydon…

At the Old Bailey in February 2017, Cela, 19, Lonergan, 20, Mukasa, 20, and Zahawy, 19, all denied murder.

I sat through every day of the nine-week trial, looking my son’s killers in the eyes, as we heard the disturbing evidence.

It seems when Fabio Cela learned Andre would be visiting the estate, he’d recruited friends and they’d armed themselves.

Witnesses saw Andre being chased by the gang, who were carrying knives and other weapons, with a white vehicle also in pursuit.

Rodney Mukasa (Photo: Metropolitan Police)

They caught up with Andre, and he fell to the ground, was stabbed and kicked till he was unconscious. Then they got in their car and drove off, leaving my boy bleeding to death.

A metal pole found at the scene had Andre’s blood on one end, Fabio Cela’s DNA on the other. Officers found three knives that’d been thrown from the car.

The four men denied everything, blaming each other. Cela claimed the attack had been self-defence, and that he’d sustained head injuries.

But the jury saw through their lies. Mukasa and Zahawy were found guilty of murder, each to serve life, with a minimum of 22 years.

Cela was found not guilty of murder, but convicted of manslaughter, sentenced to 16 years with an extended licence period of four years.

Jamell Lonergan (Photo: Metropolitan Police)

Judge Zoe Smith said Cela was the one who ‘orchestrated’ the ‘mob-handed attack’.

The jury couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict on Longergan, 20. He was due for retrial, but later admitted manslaughter and was jailed for 10 years.

For me, the verdicts are nothing to celebrate.

Justice is done, but it won’t bring back Andre.

Five young lives have been wasted over a pathetic feud. There are no winners here.

Just heartache and grief.

 

Inside the courtroom…

The judge asked the defendants to sit, rather than stand as the sentences were delivered. Yet the men, who all blamed each other, fought as they were found guilty.

Zahawy stood up and lunged at Mukasa, shouting ‘f*cking murderer’, before he was restrained by five of the 10 security officers in the dock.

All had to be kept in more distant cells from each other, while Judge Smith commented she could hear the defendants shouting and arguing in the cells from her own room..