Friday, February 29, 2008

Wroughton Verdicts - Trial 1

Seven Asian teenagers have been convicted of brutally battering a schoolboy to the brink of death with a claw hammer, it can be revealed today. Henry Webster, 16, from Wiltshire, was left fighting for life after being repeatedly hit with the DIY tool in scenes compared to a Quentin Tarantino film.

Four teenagers - 18-year-old Wasif Khan, 19-year-old Amjad Qazi and two boys aged 15 and 16 who cannot be named - were found guilty of carrying out the attack by a jury on February 14. Nazrul Amin, 19, and two other youngsters aged 15 and 16 admitted inflicting grievous bodily harm before proceedings began at Bristol Crown Court.

The convictions can be made public today after Judge Carol Hagen agreed to lift reporting restrictions she had implemented when the jury returned its verdict.

Henry, who attended Ridgeway School in Wroughton, Wiltshire, suffered three skull fractures during the violence. One caused him a brain injury and required surgery.

A jury of five women and seven men had been told how a gang of Asian males, from Swindon, travelled to Wroughton for the fight after being summoned by a friend in a sequence of phone calls and text messages. The court had been told how the fight "blew out of nothing" after Henry ran into a group of Asian boys in a corridor at his school. After a brief argument, he was asked to meet one of the 15-year-old defendants at the school tennis courts later that day.

Describing the incident that unfolded on the tennis courts that day in January last year, James Patrick, prosecuting, said: "For those there, it made a sickening sight, the sort of which you would expect to see in a Quentin Tarantino film - certainly not at a school in a village in Wiltshire." The jury was told how Henry, a 6ft 2in rugby player with bright red hair, was targeted because he "stood out". A message recorded from a phone call between a witness and one of the suspects, on the day of the fight, said: "There's a big fat ginger kid who wants a fight at the school."

The Asian group arrived at the school and were heard screaming near the tennis courts, the court heard. Mr Patrick added: "It was to be a fair fight, a one-on-one - or so Henry thought. But he had not reckoned on the fact it was not to be one-on-one. As he came into the playground he was attacked by a group. He was knocked to the ground, he was kicked, punched and repeatedly hit over the head with a hammer."

In a video interview filmed six days after the attack, Henry told police that the group had ambushed him. He said: "I heard screams, then I was punched in the back of my head. I was curled up on the floor but they repeatedly kept hitting me. Then I felt the hammer hit the back of my head." He added: "I know it was a hammer because if it was a punch, your vision does not change. As I got hit, my vision turned to stars - it all separated, what I could see, because it was so powerful."

Witnesses to the assault saw his attackers run off, punching the air and shouting: "We've done it." After the attack, teachers were alerted and ambulances arrived at the scene within minutes. Henry stayed conscious throughout the ordeal. He told the court he was still suffering from the life-threatening injuries sustained in the attack. Henry said: "The hammer had gone through my head, through my skull and into the fluid in my brain. I have been told I will never recover because the brain cells will not reform."

Khan and Qazi, the two eldest defendants, blamed each other for the attack during more than four weeks' evidence. Khan had claimed that he was under pressure from his local Asian community not to name the teenager responsible. Referring to the two teenagers who pleaded guilty before the trial, Mr Patrick said they had kicked Henry as he lay on the ground. Khan was remanded in custody. The other three were granted bail pending sentence.

Hmmm. Bail pending sentence. Somehow I don't think we're looking at double-figure sentences here.

Henry's mum is not too chuffed with the school. From the comments on the local papers at the time of the attack it appeared there had been trouble from the gang calling itself "Asian Invasion" for some time.

After the restrictions were lifted, Henry's mother Liz Webster, made a statement on behalf of the family on the steps of Bristol Crown Court. Joined by partner Roger Durnford and Det Sgt Mark Wilkinson, she said Ridgeway School should have been a safe, secure environment.

She said: "This attack was not an isolated incident, it was a culmination of events. This hideous crime which has touched and affected so many young lives was wholly avoidable. That school has at no time made any efforts to assist us and my son's life and future prospects have been devastated. No parent should have to endure the heartache of their child being subjected to such horrifying violence while at school - in what should be an entirely safe and secure environment. And no child should have to experience any of the utter terror and pain my son suffered on what should have been an ordinary day in the protective surroundings of school."

Ms Webster paid tribute to her son for his "amazing strength". She said: "On January 11 last year a gang strutted into the Ridgeway School and almost killed my 15-year-old son by repeatedly striking his head with a hammer. The events of that day propelled us into a terrifying and traumatic world and our lives have now been changed forever. It has been an incredibly challenging year especially for our wonderful son, Henry, who has inspired us all with his amazing strength and courage. Since his birth, Henry has always been a very sweet-natured, sensitive, kind, generous, thoughtful boy - a real gentle giant."

Ms Webster thanked the police, witnesses and psychiatric staff who have helped them through the ordeal. She said: "We have to take this opportunity to convey our thanks to those who have extended their help and support, in particular all the witnesses and their families - who have also become victims of this horrific incident. The police, Det Sgt Wilkinson and his team, have been a wealth of support and professionalism. The ambulance service who acted so promptly and, of course, the medical team at Frenchay Hospital to whom Henry ultimately owes his life. Last but not least, we'd like to mention Professor Gordon Turnbull, psychiatrist. We could not have survived this dreadful ordeal without Gordon's intervention. He has been our family's salvation."

Det Sgt Wilkinson said: "I would like to reassure the community that this was an extremely rare crime and that Swindon is a very safe place in which to live, work and visit."

Steve Colledge, headteacher at Ridgeway School, a self-governing foundation establishment, was not available for comment.

There's a surprise. There's a separate trial of his other assailants continuing.