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Monday, 22 July, 2002, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
Tycoon guilty of manslaughter
Nicholas Van Hoogstraten
Van Hoogstraten is one of Britain's richest men
One of Britain's richest men, property tycoon Nicholas van Hoogstraten, has been found guilty of the manslaughter of a former business associate.

An Old Bailey jury cleared the multi-millionaire of murder, deciding he had hired two men to harm and intimidate Mohammed Raja but not to kill him.

Mr Raja, 62, who had been trying to sue van Hoogstraten for fraud, was stabbed and shot at point-blank range at his home in Sutton, Surrey, two years ago.

Victim Mohammed Raja: Stabbed and shot
Van Hoogstraten's co-defendants - David Croke and Robert Knapp - have been sentenced to life after being convicted of murder last week by the same jury.

The judge warned van Hoogstraten he was considering a life sentence for him too.

But sentencing has been adjourned until 2 October, pending psychiatric reports.

Outside the court, police and Mr Raja's relatives welcomed the verdict.

Metropolitan Police Commander Andy Baker said: "Mr Van Hoogstraten believed himself to be above the law. We have shown this is not the case."

Mr Raja's son Amjad said the family was "happy and relieved".

"These are all evil men who have taken a loving father away from us and a loving husband from our mother," he said.

The court heard that van Hoogstraten asked Knapp - an old friend and enforcer he met in prison decades before - to teach Mr Raja, who he described as "a maggot", a lesson.

Knapp contacted Croke, another ex-convict. The two disguised themselves as gardeners and went to Mr Raja's house.

When the pair rang the doorbell, Mr Raja - who already believed he was in danger - probably armed himself with a knife before opening the door.

His grandsons, who were upstairs at the time, heard raised voices followed by a loud bang.

David Croke
David Croke has been sentenced to life
When they ran down the stairs, they found him holding his chest. He had been stabbed five times and shot in the face with a sawn off shotgun.

Mr Justice Newman told Croke, 59, from East Moulsecoomb, Brighton, and Knapp, 55, from Abbeyfeale, County Limerick, they were "plainly very dangerous men indeed" with "appalling" criminal records.

He said the two had shown no remorse and had only one motive for the killing - greed.

Van Hoogstraten, 57, from Uckfield in East Sussex, admitted being ruthless in business, and had previous convictions for violence.

But taking the stand during the trial for seven days, he had labelled claims that he hired the men as hitmen to get back at Mr Raja "nonsense".


He said civil litigation was an "occupational hazard" of property dealing and that the money Mr Raja had been trying to get was "peanuts".

Robert Knapp, who was sentenced to life for Mr Raja's murder
Knapp: "Very dangerous"
Van Hoogstraten's fortune was based on property deals - which often involved clearing out slum tenants.

Van Hoogstraten spent four years in jail in the 1960s after hiring thugs to throw a grenade into the home of a business associate who he claimed owed him money.

In a number of television documentaries he was seen calling tenants "filth".

He had also been in dispute with ramblers, whom he described as "scum", over a footpath at his 28m Hamilton Palace estate in Sussex.

A judge once described him as the "self-styled emissary of Beelzebub."

The BBC's Lucy Atherton
"Van Hoogstraten admitted he was ruthless... but insisted he bore no grudge against the victim"
Victim's son Amjad Raja
"They're evil men who've taken a loving father"
Commander Andy Baker of the Metropolitan Police
"Mr van Hoogstraten, we believe, thought himself to be above the law"

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