A man accused of murder at Manjaros restaurant in Middlesbrough on Christmas Eve has been found not guilty.
Efreeqi Siddig, 21, denied killing 41-year-old Mazhar Ali at the popular Linthorpe Road chicken restaurant. He was also found not guilty of an alternative charge of manslaughter and two counts of having a bladed article.
Mr Siddig stood in the dock with his hands clasped together in front of his mouth as the not-guilty verdicts were read out at Teesside Crown Court.
The verdicts were announced after almost nine hours’ consideration following a two-week trial.
The Recorder of Middlesbrough, Judge Simon Bourne-Arton QC, thanked the jury for their care in “a very difficult and important case”.
Mr Siddig, of Princes Road, Gresham, Middlesbrough, was charged after an alleged stabbing in the kitchen restaurant on December 24 last year.
Mr Ali, a businessman from Stockton, was taken to James Cook University Hospital but died on Christmas Day.
During his trial, Mr Siddig maintained he “lost control” as he tried to protect himself.
He claimed he feared an attack from Mr Ali, who was previously convicted of killing a man in 2002.
He cried as he told the jury: “I swear by God I didn’t mean to hurt him.”
Mr Siddig said he was working, cutting chicken in the back kitchen of the Middlesbrough restaurant when Mr Ali appeared beside him at 3.20pm.
“When I turned my head, he was just next to me and I was scared of him,” Siddig told jurors.
“I thought he was going to assault me. I was extremely frightened of him and I wasn’t able to focus on anything else.
“I lost my control and I couldn’t control myself.”
Earlier in the trial CCTV footage was shown from inside the restaurant’s kitchen - allegedly showing Mr Siddig lunge at Mr Ali with a large kitchen knife, and stab him once to the chest.
The incident came the day after CCTV footage captured Mazhar Ali assaulting Siddig in the restaurant - punching, kicking and headbutting him - after a disagreement about a chicken delivery, the jury heard.
Mr Siddig told the court he forgot he had a knife in his hand during the Christmas Eve incident.
He said: “I was trying to push him away.
“I only realised the knife was in my hand after he sustained the injury and he lifted up his T-shirt.
“I didn’t want to stab him. I just wanted to scare him off me, to protect myself.”
He denied stabbing Mr Ali as revenge for being beaten up the day before.