After swapping barbs and insults over social media, the two rival fashion models allegedly agreed to fight it out in person. Harry Uzoka and George Koh settled the details through WhatsApp and Instagram direct messages. Time: the afternoon of last Jan. 11. Place: Ollgar Road in the Shepherd’s Bush’s neighborhood in west London.
“Where you,” 24-year-old Koh allegedly messaged Uzoka, 25, the Times of London reported. “I’ll come there n we can fight bring ur friends with u.”
Rivalries, both professional and romantic, allegedly propelled the young men into the violent showdown. Uzoka — whose smooth good looks had reportedly been splashed in the pages of GQ and in ads for high-end fashion brands like Zara — brought along his roommate, Adrian Harper. The pair armed themselves for combat with dumbbell bars, the Times reported.
But when Uzoka and his friend arrived for the standoff, they saw they were outmatched. As the prosecution recounted on Monday in the first day of a murder trial in London’s Old Bailey, Koh brought two friends, Merse Dikanda and Jonathan Okigbo. They were armed with knives, including a machete, the Independent reported.
“It is not difficult to work out which side won,” prosecutor Richard Horwell told the court on Monday, according to the Independent. “Uzoka and Harper were outnumbered and bars stand little chance against knives.”
Uzoka was killed in the following confrontation, collapsing on the pavement outside his apartment from a stab wound to the chest.
Koh and his two friends now stand accused of murder. The trial, which kicked off on Monday, hinges on the ill will flowing between the two fashion models over success and sex. A case centering on two young, handsome figures has sent a shock wave through London’s high-fashion scene, a hothouse of feuds that rarely spill over into bloodshed.
All three defendants deny the murder charge.
“A murder does not become a more serious crime simply because the victim enjoyed a degree of fame. Of course it doesn’t,” Horwell told the court. “[B]ut Harry Uzoka was a well-known and successful model with a very bright future ahead of him, and his celebrity status is relevant because it is that very part of his life that brought him into contact with the first defendant, George Koh.”
The two men — both young Londoners of roughly the same age — floated through the same elite fashion circles, but Uzoka had the professional edge. Represented by the Premier Model Management, the same London firm behind the careers of Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford, Uzoka modeled for brands such as Alexander McQueen, ASOS and Everland.
“Harry Uzoka was charming, curious, cute and always complimentary,” fashion stylist Ayishat A. Akanbi wrote in Dazed following the murder. “I was scrolling through Instagram when his kind eyes, charismatic smile, baby-smooth skin, and rich complexion first struck me. Put simply, his attractiveness was breathtaking.”
Akanbi added: “To the creative black community, Harry was not only a model; he was the living representation of possibility.”
Koh’s own good looks mirrored Uzoka’s, but his career did not enjoy the same trajectory. He was once represented by the firm IMG, and modeled in campaigns for Alexander McQueen and Topman. But according to Women’s Wear Daily, Koh was no longer being represented by his elite agency at the time of Uzoka’s death.
In court, prosecutor Horwell said the two models vaguely knew of one another.
“George Koh was also a model, not as successful as Uzoka, and it seems that Uzoka was annoyed by Koh because the less-successful Koh attempted to copy Uzoka and, indeed, some said that they looked alike,” he told the court, the Guardian reported. Horwell added Uzoka was further “annoyed” because Koh had reached out to Uzoka’s friends.
“There is no suggestion that the two were in any sense at war with each other or anything like that,” Horwell told the court. “But something changed, something caused that relationship to change and it was a woman.”
According to the prosecution, in December 2017, a French model named Annecetta Lafon arrived in London. An acquaintance of both Uzoka and Koh, the model first stayed with Koh at his home in Camden. Horwell told the court Lafon was “surprised to discover that Koh had something of an obsession with Uzoka,” the Guardian reported.
“Koh claimed that he knew Uzoka well and then said that he had sex with Uzoka’s girlfriend and that was the reason they no longer talked,” the prosecutor told the court, the Times reported. “Koh then added that Uzoka was a bad man and a liar. And so it seemed that admiration for another model and his success had turned to contempt.”
Lafon confided Koh’s boasts to Uzoka not long after. Uzoka then confronted Koh on Instagram, calling him “fake,” the Mirror reported. Messages flew between the two models, and the arrangements were made for the Jan. 11 faceoff.
Prosecutors allege Uzoka and his friend ran from the scene when they realized Koh and his two accomplices were armed with knives and a machete. The friend escaped unharmed. Uzoka, however, was stabbed in the chest.
Three days after the murder, Koh turned himself in to police. According to the Times, the suspect presented a prepared statement to the police.
“During the altercation with Harry, he knocked me to the ground. He had a metal pole in his hand and went to strike me. I acted in self-defense because I feared that he would kill me or cause me serious injury,” Koh told investigators. “I had no intention to stab him in the chest. I was on the floor when he fell on to me. I maintain that my actions were reasonable given the circumstances.”
As the trial started Monday, Horwell argued the government aimed to prove otherwise.
“We suggest that prepared statement was a lie in an attempt to support a fabricated defense,” he told the court. “These three men went to a fight armed with knives. They plainly intended to use them and did so. And as a result Harry Uzoka lost his life.”