A KITCHEN worker who stabbed a man to death at a restaurant has been cleared of murder and manslaughter.

Efreeqi Siddig was also found not guilty of two charges of having a bladed article in a public place after a jury of seven men and five women spent two days deliberating.

Mazhar Ali, 41, died in hospital shortly after the incident in Manjaros in Middlesbrough town centre on Christmas Eve.

Mr Siddig, 21, of Princes Road, Middlesbrough, said during his evidence: “I swear by god, I didn’t mean to hurt him.”

He told the jury that he had been beaten up by Mr Ali the previous day, and he thought he was going to be attacked again.

He was using a knife to prepare meat when Mr Ali went into the kitchen, when there was a coming-together of the two men.

The public gallery at Teesside Crown Court was packed to listen to the verdicts.

Judge Simon Bourne-Arton, QC, praised Mr Ali’s family for the “impeccable” way they had behaved during the two-week trial.

The court heard how Mr Siddig fled his Sudan homeland after escaping from prison as a 12-year-old because his family was thought to be anti-government.

The court heard that he ended up in Stockton then Middlesbrough, and got a job in Manjaros restaurant after first working in a halal cash and carry.

He told the jury that he earned more than £2,000 a month but gave away up to £900 to elderly, ill and less fortunate people for food.

The prosecution alleged that Mr Siddig stabbed Mr Ali to death in a revenge attack.

Mr Ali had a food company, and the jury heard that the two men had argued about the delivery of chicken and its quality in the run-up to the killing.

Mr Ali sent a text message on December 22 to the boss of Manjaros, Rafiq Ali - who was also his partner in another business venture - saying he would give Mr Siddig “a good kicking if he talks shit to me again”.

Mr Siddig claimed he was visited at home the following day, had a knife held to his throat and his arm twisted up his back as Mr Ali demanded to be respected.

Later, at the restaurant, he was kicked, punched and headbutted by the older man, closed circuit television footage shown to the court revealed.

Mr Siddig was at work in the kitchen on Christmas Eve, preparing meat when Mr Ali twice walked past him.

He said he thought he was going to be attacked again on the second occasion, “lost control”, tried to push him off and did not mean to stab him.