TODAY the Echo demands justice for a man who was beaten and strangled to death before his body was set on fire.

Albert Williams was a vulnerable pensioner, living alone, and killed in the most brutal fashion.

Yet, almost two years after his death, no-one has been found guilty of his murder - and efforts to find the person, or persons, responsible seem to have stopped.

The Echo can today reveal the extraordinary chain of events which led to a pair of drug addicts being charged over the murder.

Frail Mr Williams was found dead in his cramped flat in Cedar Close, Southend, on August 8, 2015. Two men were cleared of his murder in December - but jailed for eight-and-a-half-years each for a violent burglary at his home seven days before his death.

Detectives have declined to make a new public appeal since Anthony Smith and Simon Smith were acquitted, but someone must hold the key to bringing a murderer to justice.

A troubling set of circumstances can be revealed after our source, with detailed knowledge of the investigation, told the Echo the 67-year-old had been badly “let down” by the failure to secure a murder conviction.

And our source, who works in the criminal justice system, is “disgusted” no further public appeals have been made since the acquittals.

Our source said, in his view, Essex Police has since failed to put enough resources into re-investigating the murder.

He said: “Anthony Smith and Simon Smith were easy targets and particularly pathetic figures.

“If Albert Williams had been a literate, middle class dad this would be a completely different situation. People would be making a noise and saying this is not right.

“The case was such a mess that the prospect of getting a conviction was pretty slim. Albert deserved better and that’s why I’m speaking out.”

Over two court cases, jurors heard startling claims about the original suspect in the case, a 42-year-old man who we are referring to as Man A.

He was arrested two weeks after Mr Williams’ body was discovered, but police released him without charge after he provided an alibi and handed murder squad detectives a list of five witnesses who he said could put two other men in the frame.

Two of those witnesses - who gave evidence for the prosecution during the trials of Anthony Smith and Simon Smith - have themselves previously been convicted of burglary, theft and violence offences.

Both lived in the Southend area, one of them residing in the same tower block as Man A and Anthony Smith.

Although that could have made them potential persons of interest in the Albert Williams case, they were never questioned.

It emerged in court that Man A had made a “confession” to a police informant about being present at a burglary and a fire just 36 hours after Mr Williams was found, when police were still treating his death as non-suspicious.

Perhaps surprisingly, officers’ suspicions had not been raised either by the fact Mr Williams’ body had been set on fire, or that he had been the victim of a violent burglary just seven days previously. A murder investigation was launched 15 days later after a post-mortem was carried out.

Controversy over the evidence relating to Man A led to the collapse of a trial at Chelmsford Crown Court in June.

Police cleared him after viewing CCTV footage of the tower block where he lived - deciding that because he was not seen coming out through the foyer at the relevant times he could not have been involved.

Officers also concluded that because he lived so close to Mr Williams’ home, mobile phone location evidence was useless.

However, neither the CCTV nor the mobile phone evidence was handed over to the defence teams, who were trying to clear their clients by blaming Man A and his associates.

Legal arguments conducted without the jury, two weeks into the trial, led to an incredulous Judge Christopher Ball calling it off.

A second jury at the Inner London Crown Court in November was told about Man A and his alleged “confession”.

Following his arrest and after his release on bail, Man A provided police with a list of witnesses, including two men who we are referring to as Man B and Man C, who claimed to have heard confessions from the Smith men.

Our source said: “Having been arrested on suspicion of murder he then says he will provide a list of people who will tell police the Smiths have confessed.

“They then go and get all these witnesses. Every one of the witnesses - bar one - was provided by this man, which is extraordinary.”

Another prosecution witness the man put forward was also a convicted criminal. Two other men the police visited on his advice were not called as witnesses.

The only other prosecution witness who gave evidence against the pair was a serving prisoner who claimed Anthony Smith confessed while he was on remand for a different offence.

At the trial, the witnesses said Simon Smith told them about the crime and that Anthony Smith was also involved.

Killing probe was extensive but failed to secure conviction

DETECTIVES followed 414 lines of enquiry, took 311 witness statements, reviewed 844 documents for evidence and seized 714 exhibits in the hunt for Albert Williams’ killer.

An Essex Police spokesman said: “When Mr Williams’ death was reported, officers including the local inspector and CID inspector attended and detectives worked with fire investigators to establish the circumstances leading up to the fire.

“On the basis of the information at the time, including that there were no externally visible injuries to Mr Williams, his death was initially treated as unexplained and likely to be non-suspicious.

“Police sealed off his home while further investigations were carried out.

“As a result of those further investigations, a forensic post-mortem examination was carried out, which established that Mr Williams had suffered serious internal injuries.

“As soon as his death was identified as suspicious, a murder investigation was launched by the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate.

“Detectives were already investigating a previous burglary that Mr Williams had reported, during which he was assaulted and money stolen.

“Following his death, their lines of enquiry included whether or not the two incidents were linked.”

The Echo asked whether the case is currently an active investigation and how many resources are assigned to it.

The spokesman added: “The investigation remains led by the Major Investigation Team at Harlow and kept under regular review. Any new information that comes to light will be thoroughly investigated.”

We also asked whether detectives would discuss the case and make a new public appeal.

The spokesman said: “We’ve already given you detailed answers to your questions so an interview would not add anything further.”

Anyone with information can call police on 101.


Anthony Smith (left) and Simon Smith

Taxpayers paid £220k in court costs after accused drug addicts claimed legal aid funds

THE trials of two men acquitted of the vicious murder of Albert Williams cost taxpayers almost £220,000 in legal bills, the Echo can reveal.

Drug addicts Simon Smith, 40, of no fixed address, and Anthony Smith, 44, of Ceylon Road, Westcliff, were cleared of murder after a trial at the Inner London Crown Court in December.

The vulnerable pensioner was beaten and strangled and his body was set alight at his cramped flat in Cedar Close, Southend, on August 8, 2015.

Mr Williams, 67, had been the victim of another violent burglary the previous week in which about £2,000 in cash was stolen.

The two Smith men, who are not related, were found guilty and jailed for eight-and-a-half years each for the first burglary, but cleared of the second burglary- in which police say about £10,000 was taken - and murder.

The heroin users were said to have spent almost all of the money on drugs, even though their arrests came less than three weeks later.

A Freedom of Information probe by the Echo found Anthony Smith was granted £84,857 in legal aid, while Simon Smith was awarded £70,403.

The cost was so high because the first trial at Chelmsford Crown Court in June had to be abandoned after two weeks. The second trial was moved to London.

A separate Freedom of Information request to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) found the state spent £8,923 on lawyers at the first trial - in addition to normal salaries - and £53,849 on the second trial.

A CPS spokesman said: “Please note that the counsel costs of the first trial are significantly lower because we utilised our own Principal Crown Advocate and the above figure excludes their normal salary cost.

“There was also the reviewing lawyer cost for both trials. The reviewing lawyer assigned to the case has a full case load of which this formed part of however the individual hours spent by them on this particular case are not recorded by the area.”

Anthony Smith was cleared after medical evidence showed he had been found sleeping rough in a bin area in Southend, suffering from hypothermia at about 7am on the day of the murder.

Although he was not far from Mr Williams’ flat, the murder was estimated to have taken place between 5am and 7am - not long enough for him to develop the illness on an August day.

There was also no obvious sign he had been involved in a violent assault or fire.

There was forensic evidence against Anthony Smith, but he claimed it was from an even earlier burglary.

No forensic evidence existed against Simon Smith and he was only tried on the basis that he had confessed to other criminals who were associates of the original suspect in the case, known as Man A.


Regulator probing DNA ‘contamination’

POLICE initially believed Albert Williams’ death was non-suspicious even though his chest had been crushed, he had been strangled and his body set alight just a week after a violent burglary at his home.

Forensic pathologist Dr Benjamin Swift told jurors Mr Williams’ chest had been “flattened” as a result of 50 rib fractures, probably caused by repeated stamping.

He said it was not possible to say whether the injuries to Mr Williams’ chest or the strangulation had killed him, but he would have found it impossible to breathe because his lungs had collapsed.

There were also serious tears to his heart, pancreas and bowel.

Painkillers being taken for the attack the previous week were still in his blood.

Prosecutor Andrew Jackson said the killers inflicted “unimaginable violence.” Despite all of this, police said none of the injuries were visible externally.

Our source believes the subsequent 15-day hold-up between Mr Williams’ death and a post-mortem potentially allowed crucial forensic evidence to be contaminated.

Anthony Smith’s DNA and fingerprints were found on furniture in Mr Williams’ bedroom. During evidence, he put this down to a distraction burglary he had carried out at the flat in the past.

Samples were also taken from Mr Williams’ neck. However, police admitted the neck sample was “compromised” during testing.

An Essex Police spokesman said: “Three DNA samples recovered from the scene were found to belong to Anthony Smith. Each were found to be one billion times more likely to have come from Smith than another person.

“The trial jury heard one of the DNA samples sent for further examination was compromised due to an error during testing.

“However this did not result in the DNA being unusable. Further work was completed and identified that it was 130,000 more likely to relate to Anthony Smith than another person. This was subject of an admissibility hearing at the court and it was admitted in evidence.”

Although the sample was admitted into evidence after a legal challenge from the defence, jurors were told about the alleged mix-up.

The incident is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Forensic Science Regulator. A spokesman told the Echo it would be “inappropriate” to comment.

An Essex Police spokesman said the scene was “immediately secured” and an “extensive and detailed” forensic examination was carried out.

He said 347 exhibits were collected from seven scenes, including 267 from Mr Williams’ home. Forensic tests cost the force more than £24,000.


Cafe owner: ‘The murder probe destroyed my life’

THE Little Cafe, in Sutton Road, Southend, is a pleasant and friendly diner providing decent quality grub at a reasonable price.

Two years ago, when it was named Deb’s Diner, it was also a lifeline for frail pensioner Albert Williams, who relied on it for all of his meals.

About a five minute walk from his home in Cedar Close, Southend, the 5ft 2ins former gardener would amble there every morning, eat breakfast and place an order for dinner.

This would be delivered to his home, usually by hands-on cafe owner Ismail Celik, 52.

When Mr Williams was burgled by up to four men on August 1, he spent most of the week cowering inside his flat, nursing cuts and bruises.

It was Mr Celik who eventually called at the property four days later and alerted police.

It was also the father-of-one who, on August 8, called at the house. Smelling the smoke still smouldering from Mr Williams’ beaten and strangled body, he alerted the fire service.

Mr Celik’s reward was to be arrested and charged with conspiracy to burgle.

He said: “I was there just to help him out and give him what he wanted. He was a nice person, he was a kind person. I tried to do things for him.

“He was really a good man and didn’t deserve that.”

There were later claims in court that Mr Celik was pointing out burglary opportunities from among his meals-on-wheels customers to criminals - claims Mr Celik vehemently denied.

Anthony Smith even claimed that his DNA was only in the flat because he carried out an earlier burglary after a “tip-off” from Mr Celik. Although the cafe owner was charged, prosecutors cleared him before a trial.

Mr Celik said he was “shocked” when he heard about other burglaries committed against his customers, but claims he has also been a victim. He told the Echo the case has “destroyed” his life.

He said: “My own cafe had been broken into two times in the last year. There has been some damage to the cafe, some broken windows.

“It has cost me so much money to keep it going. Every time I go to Southend I can’t believe how that thing happened to my life.”

Mr Celik said he knew Anthony Smith as a customer but did not speak to him. He said he did not know any of the other men mentioned in court.

Charges against the businessman, from Grays, were dropped one month before the trial and there is no suggestion he did anything wrong.

He did not give evidence at the trial, but the cafe did feature heavily because the first burglary was committed after Simon and Anthony Smith found a key under the mat.

The key was kept there to allow people delivering meals to let themselves in, because Mr Williams was terrified of not hearing the bell and missing his dinner.

The court heard that on at least one occasion a staff member helped him to use his microwave because he was baffled by the technology.

On another occasion, an ex-employee told the court she saw a large amount of cash in a shoe box and warned Albert to put it in a bank.

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said: “We have a duty to keep cases under continuous review and following full consultation between the CPS, police and prosecuting counsel, we looked again at the case against Ismail Celik.

“We decided there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction against Mr Celik and we offered no evidence against him on May 9, 2016.”

Inquest could provide vital answers

AN inquest should be held to establish what happened to Albert Williams in the week between two violent burglaries, his close friend believes.

The vulnerable pensioner was murdered seven days after he was left with cuts and bruises and a suspected broken rib by Simon Smith and Anthony Smith.

The 67-year-old did not receive medical treatment for four days and was quickly discharged from Southend Hospital.

Friend and neighbour Brian Wallace, 73, believes if he had been kept in for observation he might still be alive.

He said: “The coroner decided there was no point having a full inquest because the evidence would come out at the trial.

“But I feel the inquest should continue because it is a concern of mine that between the two incidents Albert was released from hospital. He was still suffering from the effects of the first attack which were compounded in the second attack.

“It was my view that if he had remained in hospital he would not have been in his flat on the second occasion.”

Mr Williams was a former gardener from the East End of London who became friendly with neighbours by tending to their gardens. He also enjoyed cross-dressing and youths had picked on him as a result.

Neighbours asked South Essex Homes to move him to secure accommodation. But after the first burglary, the association merely changed the locks. A social worker was due to visit the following week.

A spokesman said: “South Essex Homes and the council were all very saddened to hear of the passing of a longstanding tenant and our thoughts are with all those that knew him.

“We offered our assistance with the police investigations at the time, as did the council. Victoria security patrols also visited the Cedar Close area following the fire to reassure local residents and are still in place.”

A Southend Hospital spokesman refused to comment.