A teenager who stabbed a rival to death in Stratford’s Westfield shopping centre was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum term of 18 years today.

Nii-Azu Kojo-Smith, 19, of Castle Close in Hackney Wick, was convicted of murdering Liam Woodards, 24, in June 2012 when a fight broke out between two groups of young men.

He had claimed self-defence, but police say the evidence showed that Mr Woodards, who was out celebrating his birthday, was unarmed and backed away when he was attacked with a knife.

The 24-year-old, from Stratford, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Liam’s mother Frances Woodards said her son was a loving and caring young man.

“When I think about the boy who cold-heartedly took my son’s life, I am filled with hurt,” she said.

“I hate what that boy did to Liam. It hurts me to know that his parents would still be able to see him or visit him on prison visits, touch him and hear him speak, but I will never be able to do those things with Liam.”

A melee began when a yoghurt pot and a glass were thrown between the groups at around 4.20pm on June 29.

At the Old Bailey today Tony Caton, 22, of Paul Street in Stratford, was also sentenced to three years in prison for two counts of violent disorder and Anselm Legemah, 18, of Elkington Road in Plaistow, was sentenced to two years in a youth facility for one count of violent disorder.

Detective Inspector John Nicholson said: “This was a shocking attack in the middle of Westfield in front of horrified shoppers.

"That afternoon as two opposing groups of young men passed one another, there was an exchange of words between them. This initial exchange quickly escalated into violent disorder where parties from both groups shouted profanities and threw chairs and glasses at one another.

"During the altercation three of those involved drew knives, in full view of dozens of shoppers. It was during these disgraceful scenes that Liam was tragically stabbed to death by Kojo-Smith, whose action was utterly disproportionate.”