Warwick man cleared of manslaughter charge but jailed for attack on witness and perverting course of justice

A Warwick man has been cleared of the manslaughter of a pensioner but jailed for attacking a witness in the case and perverting the course of justice.

Wednesday, 22nd March 2017, 9:14 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:56 am
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Steven Jones, 25, and from the town but of no fixed address, was jailed for a total of 26 months following the trail.

He had been charged with the manslaughter of 75-year-old William Heathcote in November 2014, for taking revenge on a witness following the incident and for conspiring to pervert the course of justice and was jailed for the latter two offences.

Warwick Crown Court heard that at 8.20pm on November 18 Jones, who was with a group of teenagers, banged on the window of Mr Heathcote’s home in Pickard Street, Warwick.

The pensioner came out in his bare feet in a state of annoyance, holding a broom and shouting at Jones to go away.

He began swinging at Jones, who just laughed as the broom caught his arm and then ran back to his younger friends.

Then as Mr Heathcote, known as Bill, turned to go back inside, he suffered a heart attack and collapsed.

Jones and his friends remained at the scene, and one of them, Michelle Barron, called for an ambulance – and Mr Heathcote was rushed to hospital but was declared dead at 9.35pm that day.

As long ago as July last year, Judge Richard Griffith-Jones agreed with a submission by Jones’s barrister at the time, Andrew Fisher QC, that he had no case to answer on the charge of manslaughter.

But the prosecution successfully challenged that ruling by applying to the High Court for a Voluntary Bill of Indictment – effectively a way of getting the charge re-instated.

There was then a trial late last year, in which Jones also faced a charge of conspiring with Michelle Barron and others in their group to pervert the course of justice.

During the trial consultant forensic pathologist Professor Olaf Biedrzycki said Mr Heathcote had such severe heart disease that he could have died ‘in any event at any time.’

And at the end of the prosecution case, the Judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence against Jones for the trial on the manslaughter charge to continue.

Again, the prosecution decided to challenge that ruling by appealing against it to the Court of Appeal.

But on hearing the case earlier this month, senior Court of Appeal judges dismissed the prosecution’s appeal and acquitted Jones of manslaughter.

Returning to Warwick Crown Court, Jones, who had already admitted a further offence of taking revenge on a witness, pleaded guilty to conspiring to pervert the course of justice.

Prosecutor Robert Fitt said that during her call to the emergency services after Mr Heathcote’s collapse, Michelle Barron had ‘begun telling a story’ of a group of hooded youths banging on the window and then running away.

“That account was maintained by her and by the defendant and others over the next few days,” said Mr Fitt.

Eventually the truth about what had happened emerged, and among witnesses who gave statements to the police was a 17-year-old youth who was there at the time.

By chance Jones, who had a bail condition not to contact witnesses, saw the teenager in Leamington town centre in August 2015 and attacked him, punching him to the face and then kicking him a number of times to the face when he fell to the ground.

Mr Fitt said Jones had 28 convictions for 54 offences, and in February last year was jailed for 32 months for offences of attempted robbery and assault with intent to rob, which he had committed while on bail.

Graeme Simpson, defending, said that although Jones had technically been on remand since then, because he was serving that sentence, only the three weeks since it ended will count towards any sentence for current offences.

He said Jones’s revenge attack on the witness had been ‘very much on the spur of the moment’ after seeing the teenager in the street.

“I make the general point that after Mr Heathcote died, the defendant remained at the scene and provided assistance and waited until the ambulance arrived.

“I ask Your Honour to consider the course of the case over the past two years and the effect it would have had on the defendant facing an allegation, and then no longer facing it, and then facing it again, and then no longer facing it, and then the appeal against Your Honour’s ruling before the final decision.”

Jailing Jones, Judge Griffith-Jones told him: “What I am about to say is simply background, and does not have a direct effect on sentence.

“You were part of a group. You were older than the others, and you knocked on an old man’s window, thereby infuriating him; and when he came out with a broom, it was you who was the focus of his anger.

“You’re not legally responsible for his death, but you must have known when he died that the person the police would be most interested in apprehending to investigate this tragedy was you.

“You took a leading part in maintaining a lying account in circumstances where there was a very strong public interest in getting to the truth of what had caused Mr Heathcote to die.

“The gravity of the situation and the sustained lying conspiracy for your benefit makes it a very serious offence. Only a custodial sentence can be justified.

“Then while on bail for that matter you came across the witness, and you were angry that he had provided evidence to the police. In fairness, you did not seek him out, but when you saw him, you attacked him, and attacked him viciously.

“The sentences must be consecutive,” added Judge Griffith-Jones, jailing Jones for eight months for the conspiracy and 18 months for the assault.