THE mum of a tragic teenage footballer has told of her heartache and disappointment with the British legal system after the case against his alleged killer was dropped.

Bulgarian national Denis Petkov, 19, died from a single stab wound to the neck in East Hanningfield Road, Rettendon, on March 11.

Mihail Dobrev, 37, was charged with his murder but the allegation was dropped last month ahead of a scheduled trial due to start this Monday.

The Echo can now reveal that the case collapsed because of doubts over the identity of the knifeman and questions about whether Denis’ killer acted in self-defence.

His mother, Diana Petkova, said she is angry that “four autopsies” were carried out on his body.

She said: “Let me express my indignation at the British legal system. After four autopsies and the detention of my child’s corpse the court decided there was not enough evidence.

“This was after assurances that one of the best Crown prosecutors would be working on it and that murder receives a life sentence.”

Denis, who was originally from the town of Batanovtsi, played for the Minor 1919 youth team and attended the International Sport Academy in Sofia. He had been in the UK for just two months and was working at a car wash.

Police were called just before midnight on March 11, following reports of a disturbance. Denis was found slumped in a stairwell. He died at the scene.

Police arrested Dobrev as well as men aged 21, 24, 42 and 30. All were Bulgarian Roma gypsies, whereas Denis was not. Dobrev was charged with murder, the others were released without charge.

The Echo understands that Dobrev and another man had blood on their clothes. A knife was recovered but could not be linked to either man. Dobrev denied murder at Chelmsford Crown Court and while he was being held on remand the other man went home to Bulgaria.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) consulted a top lawyer and was warned that Dobrev could blame the other man or claim self-defence, because witnesses said Denis was drunk, behaving aggressively and making derogatory comments about Roma.

On May 26, a pre-trial hearing- not routinely attended by the media- was held at Chelmsford Crown Court during which prosecutors said they were waiting for more evidence. There was a further meeting on May 31 at which point the decision was taken to drop the case. Another pre-trial hearing was held on June 2 and the prosecution officially offered no evidence.

Essex Police has since said it is not looking for anyone else.

The Echo asked Essex Police why it took no action to publicise the decision or issue a new appeal until this newspaper contacted them on July 7, before the scheduled trial.

A spokesman said the CPS was the “lead agency” and as such Essex Police was “not allowed” to issue a statement. We asked the CPS why it had not announced the decision. A spokesman said: “The media had not expressed any interest in this case with the CPS.”

An inquest will be held later this year.