A popular summer hotspot in Leigh became the scene of a murder investigation on Friday evening after an 18-year-old man was fatally stabbed in the heart.

Police were called to an alleyway near The Peterboat pub in Old Leigh at about 6pm Friday evening.

The victim, named locally as Luke Bellfield, was taken to hospital with stab wounds but he died a short time after being admitted.

A post mortem examination found he died as a result of a single stab wound to the heart.

Residents living in Leigh reported large gatherings of young people in Leigh Library Gardens where one youngster was overheard discussing who was going to be "shanked" on the day of the attack.

Murder probe

Essex Police are running a murder investigation into the victim's death and are treating it as a targeted attack.

A 31-year-old man from Westcliff and a 19-year-old man from Rayleigh have been arrested on suspicion of grievous bodily harm.

Read more >> Urgent police appeal to track down teenager in connection with Leigh murder probe

Police are now urging anyone with information that could help with their murder investigation to come forward.

Anyone who saw what happened or has mobile phone, CCTV or dash cam footage, is being asked to speak to officers on the scene or submit information via https://bit.ly/3uDJoBN.

Tributes to "sweet and caring boy" with a "beautiful young soul"

Friends and loved ones have paid heartfelt tributes to Luke who was an aspiring boxer.

Luke's friend Mollie Betson, who grew up with him, said she has been left devastated by his death.

Mollie told the Echo: “I’ve known Luke and his brothers for basically my whole life.

“Luke was a very sweet and caring boy, very family orientated.

“They all meant the world to him and nothing ever like what has happened to him was deserved.

“He had his whole life ahead of him and it’s devastating.”

Jodi Jackson, whose brother was close friends with Luke, will remember him as a “beautiful young soul”.

She said: “It really doesn’t sink in.

“My brother’s best friend was such a character.

“I was on the phone to my brother the other day arranging which festivals to go to.”

She said teenagers like Luke should be enjoying their lives and looking forward to festivals and driving.

She added: “To have your life taken at the blink of an eye is awful.

“Luke Bellfield, may your beautiful young soul rest in peace and your amazing character live on forever.

“You are too loved to be forgotten.

“How do you begin to comprehend laying an 18-year-old to rest?”

Another friend, who asked not to be named, said: “RIP Luke, never forgotten.

“He had a whole future ahead of him with boxing.”

Aspiring and talented boxer

Luke was an aspiring and talented boxer.

His former club, Hockley Boxing Club, in Ashingdon Road, Rochford has paid tribute to Luke.

Luke started boxing at the club at the tender age of eight, where his hard work and dedication saw him achieve two national finals at the England Boxing National Championships at the ages of 13 and 14.

Throughout his time with the club, Luke also went onto win gold in the Three Nations at the age of 15.

Braintree and Witham Times: Luke after winning gold at the Three Nations. Picture: Hockley Boxing Club Luke after winning gold at the Three Nations. Picture: Hockley Boxing Club

He later left the club at the age of 15 and continued as a junior boxer at London club, Repton.

Hockley Boxing Club said Luke is one of its successes.

Tim Yeates, head coach at Hockley Boxing Club said: “Luke’s love for boxing started at the age of eight, his passion and dedication saw him through six years of boxing, achieving two national finals, win gold in the Three Nations and an England vest.

“Luke continued his journey as a junior boxer in London.

“He was a well-loved and dedicated boxer that has been taken far too soon.

“Our thoughts are with the family at this sad time from all at Hockley Boxing Club.”

Fundraiser to support family

Following Luke's death, a fundraiser was set up to help raise money towards the teenager’s funeral costs.

The GoFundMe page was launched on Saturday - and more than £1,600 has been raised by donors so far.

Almost 70 people have donated money towards the £5,000 target.

The fundraiser has also been shared by hundreds of people on social media.

The fundraising page reads: “Luke was a loving, caring, down to earth young lad.

“Spread the awareness of knife crime.

“Our hearts go out to Luke’s family and friends at this sad time.

“Fly high angel you’ll be forever missed and never forgotten.

“Please donate towards his funeral and his family at this devastating time.”

To donate to the fundraiser, visit gofundme.com/f/donations-for-luke-bellfield.

"It's got to end"

Urgent calls for extra police patrols have been made following the fatal stabbing.

Leigh residents have been left shaken after the attack and are calling for extra safety measures.

Read more >> Nowhere these days is safe - community left shaken after murder in Old Leigh

Ron Sverdloff, who lives in the Old Town where the murder took place, is calling for more CCTV cameras in the area.

He said: “It’s sad to see anybody die.

“We need to get some teeth with street marshals.

“They just watch crowds of people, they don’t do anything.”

Mr Sverdloff has been campaigning for an alcohol free area in Leigh after it became a hotspot for trouble last summer.

“I started a petition for an alcohol free area,” he added.

“We certainly need some CCTV cameras. It’s just going to get worse.

“Whenever the sunshine comes out, it brings people far and wide and some of these people are not the most desirable people.

“I walked along the beach on Friday night and you could see broken bottles.

“I had a whole sack full of bottles.

“It’s got to end and alcohol is the common denominator.”

Martin Terry, cabinet member for community safety at Southend Council, said: “It’s a tragic event when someone has lost their life.

“My heart breaks every time this happens.

“We know we’re going to be very busy and even though the pubs won’t be open, people will bring down their own alcohol.

“I’m pushing very hard with the chief constable to ensure Southend has everything in place to deal with upcoming challenges.”

Carole Mulroney, a Leigh councillor, said she is focusing on keeping people in the community safe.

She said: “The most important thing is to send our condolences to family and friends.

“This week I was already organising with community safety officers to discuss what we do and how we prepare for when opening up happens so we don’t have a repeat of last year.

“I was focusing on that, but now also how we keep people safe.”