Straight-A students Yousef Makki and Yaseen Moriarty were best friends from the first day they met at senior school.
Aged 11, both were academically-gifted, mixed-race boys from aspirational single-parent families, living in different working-class neighbourhoods.
Identified as exceptionally bright by their state primaries, each had won a scholarship to £13,000-a-year Manchester Grammar School, one of Britain’s leading independent day schools.
They excelled from the start, breezing through their GCSEs with a matching string of multiple A* grades and, by the age of 17, had set their sights on Oxbridge. Predicted top A-level grades, Yousef wanted to be a doctor, while Yaseen was thinking of reading law.
Yaseen Moriarty (pictured with mother Deirdre) knew the teenagers who stabbed and killed his best friend Yousef Makki earlier this year
Popular with their more wealthy school friends, the boys’ social lives revolved around affluent suburbs popular with the ‘Cheshire set’.
The teen parties they attended were at detached homes worth millions, in leafy, middle-class enclaves which their parents believed to be immune from Britain’s epidemic of knife crime.
Today, there is an empty space in the classroom where Yousef used to sit.
Yousef Makki died on the evening of Saturday, March 2, after suffering a 5.5 in stab wound which pierced his heart.
‘When I see that space where my friend should be sitting, I feel empty and completely lost,’ says Yaseen, who is now 18.
‘Yousef wanted to be a surgeon; he wanted to save lives and help people, but because of the actions of someone else, he bled to death on the street.’
He was not killed on the streets of Burnage, one of Greater Manchester’s more deprived areas, where he lived with mum Debbie, 54, in a council house.
Yousef Makki (pictured) died on the evening of Saturday, March 2, on a quiet road in the Cheshire village Hale Barns, after suffering a 5.5 in stab wound which pierced his heart
Yaseen and Yousef (pictured together) were academically-gifted, mixed-race boys from aspirational single-parent families who became best friends
Yousef collapsed, fatally wounded, against a tree on a quiet road in the Cheshire village Hale Barns.
The two 17-year-olds arrested in connection with his death did not fit the urban gang stereotype. Both were his friends; middle-class boys from respectable families.
‘You think the chance of them encountering trouble is going to be minimal,’ says Yaseen’s mother Deirdre, 50, an NHS intensive care nursing sister, whose A&E colleagues at Manchester Royal Infirmary battled in vain to save Yousef’s life.
‘You don’t worry about them falling in with the wrong crowd because you think they are mixing with boys from good families with the same outlook.’
Born with every privilege and given the best education, a court would later hear, the boys Yousef was with the night he died led ‘double lives’, playing out ‘idiotic fantasies’ as ‘wannabe gangsters’.
Dressed in expensive, branded black tracksuits, puffer jackets and baseball hats, they listened to drill music, smoked weed, talked like rappers and thought it cool to carry a ‘shank’ — slang for knife.
Yaseen knew them, too. He’d been at the same parties. He too easily could have been with Yousef on the night of his death.
Yaseen recalled sitting with Yousef’s traumatised family in the public gallery for every day of the trial
In fact, Yaseen was at home in Astley, eight miles from Manchester city, when a friend called that night and, breaking down in tears, could only sob: ‘It’s Yousef.’
‘I was in complete shock for about an hour, but when it hit me I couldn’t stop crying,’ says Yaseen.
‘I didn’t know what had happened, only that Yousef had been stabbed. The next day, when it was confirmed he was dead, I felt total disbelief. It still doesn’t feel real.’
In September, Josh Molnar, now 18, was cleared of murder and manslaughter after he tearfully told Manchester Crown Court Yousef’s death was a ‘tragic accident’.
Denying the charges, he claimed he’d acted in self-defence, during what was described as a drug-related row, and that Yousef had pulled a weapon on him first.
Molnar, also cleared of conspiracy to rob, was detained for 16 months after admitting possession of a bladed article and perverting the course of justice, having initially lied to police by blaming someone else for Yousef’s death.
A second 17-year-old, referred to as Boy B, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was sentenced to a four-month detention order after he pleaded guilty to carrying a knife in a separate incident earlier that day.
He was cleared of conspiracy to rob and also a charge of perverting the course of justice.
Boy B said in his police statement he had not witnessed the altercation between his friends or the stabbing. The court heard he’d bought two illegal flick-knives from a website.
Molnar claimed Boy B gave him one of the flick-knives, and Yousef had the other. But the prosecution said there was no evidence the dead teenager had a weapon.
None was found near his body and his DNA was not present on an unopened flick-knife recovered by police from a drain.
Boy B claimed he’d kicked it there after Yousef passed it to him as he lay dying. This statement could not be cross-examined because Boy B decided not to give evidence.
Yaseen (pictured with Yousef) said that his friend had been predicted top A-level grades and wanted to be a doctor
After he was stabbed, Yousef collapsed, fatally wounded, against a tree on a quiet road in Hale Barns
Sentencing them, Mr Justice Simon Bryan QC condemned the defendants’ ‘unhealthy fixation’ with knives and attacked the ‘warped culture where possession of knives is deemed to be cool and aesthetically pleasing’.
He described knife crime as a ‘cancer’ which ‘affects all spectrums of society’.
Yaseen sat with Yousef’s traumatised family in the public gallery for every day of the trial. He will never forget the sight of Yousef’s Lebanese father Ghaleb collapsing as he cried out ‘Where’s the justice?’
The Makki family have appealed to the Attorney General to increase the ‘unduly lenient’ sentences and refer the case for review by the Court of Appeal.
They are also trying to raise £100,000 through crowd-funding sites to bring a civil case to ‘get justice for Yousef’.
After the verdict, Molnar’s parents, Stephanie, 51, and Mark, 56, who are divorced, expressed regret over Yousef’s death. They said their son — a ‘normal, typical, teenage lad’ — was ‘incredibly remorseful’ about the ‘tragedy’.
Joshua Molnar, now 18, (pictured) was cleared of murder and manslaughter after he told Manchester Crown Court Yousef’s death was a ‘tragic accident’
Mrs Molnar said: ‘I cannot imagine what Yousef’s parents and family must be going through. He [Josh] fully accepts responsibility for Yousef’s death in the act of self-defence. He will have to live with that responsibility for the rest of his life.’
His father Mark, 56, a business consultant and a former Chairman of the Cheshire Lawn Tennis Association, also spoke of the ‘sledgehammer’ of shock.
Molnar, who, the court heard, had mild learning difficulties and passed six GCSEs, had attended several private schools, including £7,860-a-year Hale Prep and £24,651-a-year Ellesmere College, Shropshire, where he was a boarder.
The court heard that Molnar cultivated a ‘hard-man’ persona which included boasting on social media of taking ‘sniff’— slang for cocaine.
His parents revealed after the verdict that, like many teenagers, their son started smoking cannabis when he was home from school at weekends.
They discouraged it, but admitted he could at times be difficult to parent and his drug use continued when he joined the sixth form at Wilmslow High School, a comprehensive state school.
Molnar left the school by mutual agreement after cannabis was found in his Hugo Boss bag. He was not in education at the time of the incident and his reputation as a ‘hard man’ was well known to those who read his social media posts and saw the ‘gangsta’ pictures he posted.
Yaseen and Yousef initially regarded the posh ‘pretend’ gangsters, who called them ‘bro’ and police ‘Feds’, as a bit of a joke.
Yaseen says: ‘We thought, ‘Why would you aspire to be somebody doing wrong when you have all that opportunity?’
‘We found it the weirdest thing to be around these wannabes boasting about being kicked out of school or college.’
Yaseen knew about a group of lads who hung out at a detached £3 million property in the Hale area called ‘The Chill House’ and posted their ‘stories’ on Snapchat or other social media.
‘There were always drugs there. They all smoked weed and talked and acted like gangsters, even though they were the sons of millionaire parents with bright futures ahead of them,’ he says.
‘I was wary of them from the start. I was never interested in drugs and neither was Yousef. He knew people from primary school who’d been sucked into the world of real gangsters.’
He remembers warning Yousef to be careful after they met Molnar and his rap-loving gangster mates at a party in Hale Barns in May 2018.
Despite Molnar initially accusing Yousef of spilling a drink on him, the pair had subsequently struck up an unlikely friendship when their paths crossed again last December.
‘Yousef had no fear of anyone. He was the kind of guy who only saw the good in people,’ says Yaseen.
‘He was funny, jokey, kind, caring, calm and always there if you needed any serious help or advice. . . Everyone liked him. He was meeting new people and I didn’t tell him to stay away from them, but I was worried.
‘I warned him that a lot of them were wannabe gangsters. I told him to be careful and he said, ‘Yeah, I know that. I don’t like them because of what they are, but because of how they are to me.’ ‘
Yousef promised his friend: ‘I won’t follow what they’re doing because I’m going to do my own thing and do well.’
The court heard that, after cycling to an upmarket grocery store, Yousef and Boy B met up with Molnar. The three were captured on CCTV messing around in an underground car park where cannabis was smoked and knives admired.
Boy B then called a drug dealer to meet them in Hale Barns, with the intention of buying more cannabis for £45, but cycled off when he arrived in a grey VW Polo with two friends who were brothers.
Thinking they were about to be robbed, the two brothers attacked Molnar and threw his £2,000 bike, a gift from his father, over a hedge.
The men drove off and when Molnar found Yousef, who’d stayed out of the way, an argument broke out between the friends.
Claiming he’d been goaded by Yousef, called a ‘pussy’ and punched in the head, Molnar told the court he acted in self-defence when he saw a knife in Yousef’s hand and produced his own. Somehow, he said, Yousef ‘came on’ to his knife.
Yaseen does not recognise the Yousef he knew from the account given by Molnar, who on the second day of giving evidence made a Snapchat video in a quiet area of the court of himself making gun gestures and stabbing motions with an imaginary knife.
Police are investigating how this clip ended up being sent to the horrified Makki family. Molnar’s legal team said the clip did ‘not reflect a lack of remorse’, but reflected his ‘frustration over the way the prosecution were misrepresenting videos that were played at court.’
Last month, Yaseen attended a candlelit vigil and anti-knife crime summit at Manchester Cathedral where Yousef was remembered.
Yousef’s mother Debbie read out the impact statement she had prepared but was too upset to read after the verdict.
With her daughter Jade, 29, by her side Debbie said: ‘His precious life was taken from us just because his killer had an obsession with knives . . . Do these boys realise the effect not only on the family but also on the whole community? The impact on everyone has been devastating.’
Nazir Afzal OBE, former chief prosecutor for the North-West, whose own 18-year-old nephew was stabbed to death in February as he walked to a gym in Birmingham, called on communities to unite to fight the spread of knife culture.
He told the Mail: ‘Young people often see a knife as a symbol of strength when it is a symbol of weakness.’
Yaseen is working hard at school. He wants to do Yousef proud by achieving A*s in English literature, history and economics A-levels.
He no longer wants to be a lawyer. He shares the Makki family’s view that Yousef was let down by the judicial system.
The deadline for Oxbridge has passed anyway. The closing date for applications was October 15, the day of the summit at Manchester Cathedral.
He lit a candle in memory of his best friend instead.