by DUNCAN ROBERTSON
An Albanian gangster has been gunned down amid a bloody turf war over the right to rob the parking metres in Tony Blair's street.
Even as police protections team were assessing security at the former Prime Minister's new London home in Connaught Square, criminals were clashing over who 'owned' metres in the exclusive neighbourhood.
It culminated in a shooting at an Albanian private members' club which left one man dead, and two others wounded.
Two other men in the room hurled themselves out of a second-floor window as they fled for their lives.
Gangster Kujtim Spahiu, 33, has been jailed for 33 years in prison for his part in the shootings after a five-week trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court, east London. Judge David Radford also recommended his deportation.
Another Albanian meter robber, Herland Bilali, said to have been the lead gunman in the attack, has never been traced by police.
Two other suspects, Mohammed Mehmeti and Lulzim Bici, who were waiting in the getaway car outside the club, were cleared of any involvement in the killing.
The Albanian gangs had devised a lucrative and ingenuously simple scam which netted them £1.25 million in £1coins from meters in the City of Westminster alone.
The racket proved so successful it was exported to other cities where old-style coin-operated meters were still in use.
Although the ringleaders have never been caught the scale of the scam was uncovered by the bloody dispute over the meters in Connaught Square.
After weeks of verbal threats and escalating tensions, the two different factions alleged in court to have been run by Petrit Brahoj, 31, and his rival Herland Bilali, 28, clashed on the night of October 13.
Jurors heard how Spahiu and Bilali tracked Brahoj to an Albanian club above an Auto Audio workshop, in Park Royal, north London.
They then burst into the club and sent innocent drinkers diving for cover as they sprayed the hall with bullets. Bricklayer Prel Marku, 22, was shot in through the head in the crossfire, while the intended target Petrit Brahoj was shot three times and survived. Another man was wounded in the leg.
The owner of the club, Musa Prahmani, and another customer escaped with their lives after leaping through a second floor window.
They landed on an inflatable dinghy after falling 25ft through the roof of an next door workshop.
The gunmen made their getaway in a Volkswagen, leaving the remaining club customers cowering the in the corner. Spahiu was arrested in Manchester on November 15.
Fatmir Xhemajli, a barman at the club, had told how he came face to face with one of the gunmen.
He said: "There was swearing and shouting and shots were fired bam, bam, bam. I turned back and tried to open the door and he pointed the gun at me.
"I saw three people lying and they weren't moving at all. The one furthest away wasn't moving and the other was crying for help."
Spahiu claimed he had no idea what would happen when he turned up with wanted associate Bilali. He said he had his head in his hands when Bilali started shooting.
But he was found guilty of murdering Marku and the attempted murder three others trapped inside the club room. Bici and Mehmeti were accused of waiting for the killers in the Volkswagen Golf getaway car, but they denied any knowledge of the murder.
Judge David Radford told Spahiu: "All of the offences were the result of a premidtated plant to shoot those you knew were in dispute in the turf war over territor in the lucrative business stealing from car parking.
"As a result of the combined actions of you and Herland Bilali, three men were shot and two men catapulted themselves themselves out of a second floor window.
"(Prel Marku) sadly died. His presence at the club was an entirely innocent one. Nothing can begin to excuse your participation in what amounts to gangland shootings."