Innocent Wearside grandad’s £500,000 bill for fighting murder claim

Murder accused Stephen Johnson denies killing a man on the holiday isle of Tenerife when he stepped in to try to stop a street fight.
Murder accused Stephen Johnson denies killing a man on the holiday isle of Tenerife when he stepped in to try to stop a street fight.
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A GRANDFATHER cleared of murder on a holiday island cannot wait to be back in Britain for an emotional reunion with his family.

Stephen Johnson was found not guilty of the fatal stabbing of a Moroccan man in the Tenerife resort of Playa de Las Américas.

The unanimous verdict at a hearing in Santa Cruz last week followed a three-and-a-half year ordeal on bail.

Now the 56-year-old businessman, who always maintained he only acted as a good Samaritan to try and stop a fight, expects to return to his family home in Elvet Green, Hetton, this weekend.

“I’m just relieved everything is over,” he said. “I’m finally coming home.”

The dad-of-three, who runs Stepys Coaches and used to sponsor the Durham and District Sunday Football League, is meeting with his lawyer in Tenerife to arrange the paperwork to go home a free man.

“They are still charging me with brawling, which is a complete load of rubbish,” he said.

“But if I appeal against it I’m going to have to pay between 2,000 to 3,000 euros in legal costs.

“I will probably be given a six-month suspended sentence and a 540 euro fine if I accept it.

“I’m just going to have to take it on the chin or else I’ll be stuck out here even longer.

“I’m not guilty, but I don’t really see the point is throwing away even more money. I just want to get home.”

Stephen estimates the long-running ordeal has cost him up to £500,000 in legal, accommodation and living costs as well as lost earnings.

He said: “There is no legal aid out here, so those costs alone run into 30,000 euros.

“I’ve also had to pay for flights backwards and forwards for my family and other living expenses.

“The business has also had to take a back seat while I’ve been out here. It’s almost ruined me.”

But Stephen said he has “no regrets” about going to the aid of fellow Brit Bryan O’Connell, 31, who was being attacked.

Mr O’Connell was also cleared of the murder charge.

Stephen also paid tribute to the “massive support” received from his family and friends, some of them raising the money to post his bail in the days after his arrest in January 2008.

“The whole thing was a complete fit-up from start to finish,” he said.

“But the help and support I was given was amazing. My lawyer was absolutely fantastic.”

Stephen’s wife Joan, who returned to the UK earlier this week after attending the court hearing, said she is “counting down the days” until her husband’s return.

The couple celebrate their 33rd wedding anniversary on Friday.

“We just want him back as soon as possible,” she added.

Twitter: @sunderlandecho