AN Ellesmere Port man has been found not guilty of murdering 31-year-old Steven Carey.

Ben Steven Wilkinson, 25, of Waverton Road, Great Sutton, had always denied the charge of murder in relation to the fatal stabbing of Mr Carey on the night of March 14, in Pooltown Road, by the Costcutter store in Ellesmere Port.

Wilkinson did, however, plead guilty at the start of his trial to the lesser charge of manslaughter, and of possessing a bladed article – a green-handled kitchen knife – in public.

The jury of five men and seven women at Chester Crown Court came to a majority verdict after just over eight hours of deliberation.

During the trial, the court heard witnesses giving evidence that Mr Carey had come to the address of Wilkinson’s partner at the time on Pooltown Road just before 8.45pm on March 14, demanding to see Wilkinson over an unpaid £80 cocaine debt.

Wilkinson had later told police when being formally interviewed he had grabbed a knife from the kitchen before meeting Mr Carey outside, saying he was planning to use the knife to “scare him” away without using it.

A number of witnesses – including people who had been at Wilkinson’s former partner’s house – then saw Wilkinson and Mr Carey having a fight in the street.

Tania Griffiths QC, prosecuting, said there was no evidence the knife was shown to Mr Carey or anyone else before the stabbing.

The fight ended when Wilkinson had used the knife to stab Mr Carey three times in the lower back.

Mr Carey responded: “You just f***ing stabbed me.”

Both men left in opposite directions, with Mr Carey heading along Regent Street before requiring emergency treatment.

Police and ambulance teams were called to the scene after two teenagers who had witnessed the fight made a 999 call.

By 9.05pm, Mr Carey had gone into cardiac arrest. He was taken to the Countess of Chester Hospital, but died from his stab wounds at 9.55pm.

Wilkinson had returned to the Pooltown Road house to drop the knife in the kitchen sink.

Witnesses at the house recalled him looking in shock, saying “I stabbed him” to no-one in particular.

He then headed to a friend’s home in Bostock Green, where he borrowed a friend’s T-shirt, taking off his top, then locking himself in a shed to hide.

Police later located him and, once Wilkinson left the shed, he was arrested.

David Elias QC, defending, said while Wilkinson had declined to give evidence in court, he had given a full account of events in his police interview on March 16.

When police had asked him in interview why he hadn’t called 999 after the stabbing, if he hadn’t intended to hurt Mr Carey, Wilkinson replied “I didn’t [think], I just panicked and ran off.

“I made a rash decision and will have to live with it.”

Wilkinson will be sentenced for manslaughter by the judge, Justice Michael Leeming, on Friday, November 27.

He was told a "significant" custodial sentence was "inevitable".

He was remanded in custody.