"I saw the knife go into his chest, I saw the blood, I'll never forget his face." With those words at the Old Bailey trial in which the gangster and "smirking" killer Kenneth Noye was convicted of murder, Alan Decabral, the key prosecution witness, condemned himself to a lifetime of fear.
On Thursday lunchtime, Mr Decabral was shot dead. A man walked up to his black Peugeot 206, pulled out a gun and fired a single shot into his head. Mr Decabral, who had said after the trial "I look over my shoulder every time I go into Sainsbury's", died instantly. It was a classic gangland execution.
Last night Kent police said they intended to interview Noye at Whitemoor prison, in Cambridgeshire, where he is serving a life sentence for the murder of Stephen Cameron in a road-rage incident on an M25 slip road in 1996.
Although there is no evidence that Noye is connected to the killing of Mr Decabral, a career criminal who had made many enemies, police took the step of offering round-the-clock protection for 12 other witnesses who gave evidence in the M25 case.
A senior police officer said last night: "The killer may well be someone else, this murder may well be nothing to do with the Old Bailey trial, but Kenny Noye is the one suspect we have at this time."
Mr Decabral's body was found in his car, parked outside a Halfords store at Ashford, Kent, by his son Adam, aged 18. There were reports that witnesses heard Mr Decabral cry out "Please don't kill me, please don't shoot", but police say it is unlikely the victim saw his killer before he was shot. Witnesses saw a man in his twenties running from the scene.
At the M25 trial, Mr Decabral, fat and unkempt with tangled shoulder-length hair gave the most detailed account of the murder of Mr Cameron. He arrived at the Old Bailey in his Rolls Royce, and appeared to relish his courtroom role. There was much hilarity when his mobile phone went off midway during giving evidence. Noye, however, was the one person in court not laughing.
Mr Decabral said after the trial that he received repeated threats intended to stop him giving evidence. He claimed that on one occasion three bullets were pushed through his letter-box, although the police stress he never reported this.
As police began to investigate Mr Decabral's killing, however, it quickly became clear that a link to Noye was not the only possibility. Mr Decabral was a well known and successful criminal, whose activities included drug smuggling and trading in firearms.
Like a growing number of middle-ranking criminals, he had profited from the huge growth in tobacco and alcohol smuggling from the Continent. And like other criminals in the region he had grown wealthy on drug dealing, particularly cocaine and heroin.
He had a £250,000 three bedroom house in Pluckley, Kent - the picturesque village, made famous by the television series Darling Buds Of May.
Police sources said his underworld activities made him many enemies. The same enemies who would have easy access to a professional killer who, for about £10,000, would have carried out the hit.
A police source said: "Everyone jumped to the conclusion that Noye was behind this just because he is such a big name, but there was a queue of people lining up to get rid of him. It could have been any one of them."
Another possible motive, said the police, was Mr Decabral's tangled "domestic activities". The police are only starting to unravel this side of his life, but he was estranged from his wife and appears to have been mixed up with several women.
It was not surprising then, that when the police offered him protection after he agreed to give evidence against Noye, he declined. Having a police officer looking over his shoulder would have been bad for business. He did have police officers he could contact and emergency numbers to ring but they would have been of little help up against a contract killer.
Since the murder, police have stepped up their protection of all the other witnesses in the Noye trial, including Danielle Cable, Stephen Cameron's fiancée, who has been given a new identity.
Yesterday Detective Chief Inspector Bob Nelson, who is heading the inquiry, would only say that the investigation was becoming increasingly complex. He declined to say whether Noye is to be questioned in jail. Detectives, however, are expected to visit him in the next few days if evidence suggests his involvement.
Yesterday, at the scene ofthe murder on the Warren Retail Park, teams of officers taped off the car park and searched the tarmac and bushes on their hands and knees looking for clues.
Officers also searched the dead man's house where a luckless friend of Mr Decabral's turned up yesterday morning and was promptly arrested for minor theft charges on an unrelated matter.