A MAN accused of killing a a beloved father more than 20 years has been cleared of murder.

Michael Donnelly, 73, went on the run for two decades after being accused of stabbing Grant Byrom, 30, in the heart in Forest Road, Colchester, on Boxing Day 1998.

He came back to town last summer in a bid to clear his name and headed to Colchester police station in a bid to clear his name.

He was later charged with murder, which he denied.

A jury at Chelmsford Crown Court cleared Donnelly, of Bromley Road, Colchester, by a majority of ten to two after seven-and-a-half hours of deliberations.

Judge Charles Gratwicke thanked them for their time.

On the day he was killed, Mr Byrom, known as Granny, had played football for the Clarendon pub in a cup final at the Stanway Rovers ground.

After drinking in the social club, Mr Byrom and his fellow players returned to the Clarendon to continue drinking and commiserate after they had lost.

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At one stage, an altercation believed to have started over buffet food began with Mr Byrom and fellow player Mark Venner.

Mr Venner ended up being taken to hospital with cuts to his eye.

Donnelly, who was close friends with Mr Venner, visited him in hospital that day before returning to his flat in Forest Road where he was hosting a party.

At one stage, Mr Byrom and his friends arrived in a bid to make amends and say sorry after the incident at the pub.

However, a fight broke out and Mr Byrom was stabbed.

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He was rushed to Colchester Hospital but sadly, he suffered a cardiac arrest as a result of his injuries and nothing could be done to save his life.

Witnesses saw he and Donnelly rowing and then involved in a large-scale fight on Forest Road.

Donnelly maintained he was knocked unconscious in the brawl, and woke up to find he was being named as the man who stabbed Mr Byrom to death.

He said he went on the run after being heard he had been accused of stabbing Mr Byrom and fled to Spain and then lived in Thailand before coming back to Colchester last year.