A GRANDAD accused of murder in Tenerife is celebrating after his trial date was brought forward.
Stephen Johnson, 56, is less than three weeks away from finding out his fate after a three-and-a-half year wait on the Spanish holiday island, His three-day trial will start on July 4.
The Wearside businessman had been told earlier this month that his trail was being pushed back another six months to November.
He has been waiting for his case to be heard since he was arrested in January 2008 over the fatal stabbing of a 25-year-old Moroccan man.
Mr Johnson, who runs Stepys Coaches in Hetton, has always denied the allegation and has been desperate for the chance to clear his name in court.
A family friend said: “The news came totally out of the blue and he’s really happy because now he knows that in about three weeks’ time his fate will be decided and, hopefully, it will go OK and he will finally be a free man.
“This has been a complete scar on his life and this is a struggle he will never forget. It’s ruined his life and his family’s lives.
“These are years he will never get back. It’s an absolute disgrace.”
Mr Johnson’s wife Joan is expected to travel to the island for the trial, which is thought to be one of the first on the island held by a jury after a shake-up to the judicial system.
He is confident that he will be able to clear his name.
A friend said: “He has been confident from day one that if there is any justice in this world he will walk away from this because he did not do anything.”
Mr Johnson was arrested after an incident in an area of the Playa de las Americas resort known as the Patch.
He claims he only acted as a good Samaritan to stop a fight between strangers and was left badly injured.
A family friend added: “Despite all of this, he has always said he would do the same again.”