A MAN has been found not guilty of shooting a love rival in cold blood.

Keith McQuade's acquittal from a charge of murdering 32-year-old "likeable rogue'' Lee King brought gasps from the packed public gallery at Teesside Crown Court.

It is the second time in his life that the 46-year-old has faced a murder charge - and the charge against him collapsed.

In 1993, magistrates in Teesside refused to commit him for trial for the shotgun murder of Kevin "Rico" Richardson, because they ruled there was insufficient evidence to support the charge.

Now, nearly eight years later, Mr McQuade, of Kenilworth Road, Middlesbrough, was acquitted of a second shotgun killing on the same Park End estate, in Middlesbrough, where Mr Richardson was shot - and where Mr McQuade lives.

Mr McQuade denied the prosecution's claim that he shot Mr King after he told him he had slept with Mr McQuade's ex-girlfriend, who he then described as a "slut''.

Detective Superintendent Adrian Roberts said after the case: "The jury requires to be certain of McQuade's guilt and it appears they have not been.

"Naturally, I am disappointed but respect that decision. This has however, been an extremely complex and thorough investigation, and despite the defence's assertions to the contrary, there is not a shred of evidence to implicate anyone else associated with the investigation, or to suggest a new inquiry. We will not be looking for anyone else.''

Mr King was convicted of attempting to pervert the course of justice after he disposed of the knife used to kill Teesside hardman Lee Duffy in 1991, by dropping the weapon down a drain.

Mr King's family declined to comment last night.

Detectives described the Lee King murder as "a cold blooded and premeditated execution style killing".

The 32-year-old petty criminal was shot in the back and then received a shot to the head as he lay mortally wounded.

The body of Mr King was found with a bag containing two balaclavas and a knife clutched in one of his hands.

It was Mr McQuade's defence that Mr King had proposed they both take part in an armed robbery on a house in Kensington Road, Middlesbrough, on the night he was killed.

The court was told King produced a shotgun hidden in a bin liner, but Mr McQuade told him he was not interested