Boy and youth guilty of murdering father of five

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The Independent Online

A man and a boy of 16 were found guilty today of murdering a father of five who was beaten to death just yards from his front door.

Michael Eccles, 43, died on 26 January, a day after sustaining serious injuries in a brutal street attack near his home in Lichfield, Staffordshire.

A jury at Birmingham Crown Court took four hours to find guilty Carl Keatley, 20, of Greencroft, Lichfield, and a 16-year-old boy, who is also from Lichfield.

The boy can now be identified as Jordan Carroll after a court order was lifted.

His father, 55-year-old Edward Carroll, was found guilty of perverting the course of justice.

He tried to help his son "cover up" the crime by putting his blood-stained clothes in the washing machine and cleaning blood from his head.

Judge Robert Juckes QC said the case had been "difficult and troubling".

He adjourned sentencing until Friday September 11. All three were remanded in custody.

Family members in the public gallery shouted "love you, Jord, love you, Carl" as they were convicted. Keatley waved back at them.

During the two-week trial, jurors heard that Mr Eccles was walking home from a local Costcutter store, having purchased a bottle of wine and some milk, when he was set upon by Keatley and Carroll, who was 15 at the time.

It was a Sunday evening and the pair had spent the day drinking vodka in a local park. Both were drunk when they chased their victim and knocked him to the ground.

The assault followed a "verbal exchange" as Mr Eccles left the store with his purchases and asked them to move on.

Gareth Evans QC, prosecuting, told the court that Mr Eccles, a factory worker and ardent Liverpool FC fan, was "punched and kicked and stamped upon" by the drunken pair.

He was left lying in the street with a burst eye socket, 10 broken ribs, a number of broken bones in his neck and massive facial injuries.

His head was "literally kicked in" after blows rained down on the front, back and both sides of his skull, Mr Evans said.

The prosecutor said a passing motorist saw Keatley and Carroll "pushing, barging, and intimidating" Mr Eccles.

Having finished their attack, the pair made their way back to the row of shops where they had previously loitered, Keatley on his bicycle and the teenager on foot.

But, said Mr Evans, as the male driver looked in his rear view mirror he saw the younger defendant run back and "deliver a football-like kick to the head of Mr Eccles".

When paramedics arrived at the scene, in the Dimbles area of the cathedral city, Mr Eccles had no pulse.

He was resuscitated but later suffered a heart attack and loss of blood to his brain caused irreversible brain damage.

He was pronounced dead in hospital the next day, leaving behind a partner of 23 years and five children.

Speaking after the verdicts were returned, Chief Superintendent Mick Harrison, commander of Staffordshire Police's Trent Valley division, said: "Mr Eccles suffered sickening injuries in a pointless, savage attack.

"His death was an utter tragedy. He was a much-loved and devoted family man, who was obviously highly regarded by his friends and colleagues. Our sympathies remain with everyone close to him."

The officer added: "The witness and forensic evidence presented to the jury was gathered during a painstaking inquiry by our major investigations department.

"We are grateful to everyone who helped the investigation, and to the local community for their patience and understanding as we pieced together the circumstances surrounding Mr Eccles' death. The efforts of those who tried to help Mr Eccles at the scene must also be remembered."

Mr Harrison went on to compare the character of the victim, a much-loved family man, with that of those who killed him and also tried to cover up the murder.

"At the time, Mr Eccles was described by his family as kind, giving and loving - the starkest of contrasts to those who killed him and tried to cover it up," the officer said.

"We hope that the verdicts will go some way to helping his family and friends cope with their huge loss. We also hope that the local community will take reassurance from knowing that those responsible for his death now face a long time behind bars.

"This terrible incident came as a huge shock to people who live in the area, the vast majority of whom are hard-working and committed to their community."

Both Keatley and the teenager denied murder. Keatley claimed he could not have kicked or stamped on Mr Eccles because he has a prosthetic leg.

He told jurors the false limb, fitted above the knee of his right leg in January 2007, prevented him from being able to exert any force with his feet.

He said: "I am not able to use my feet in a violent way.

"I never did any stamping. I am not able to cause serious injuries because of my leg.

"There isn't enough force in that leg to cause the damage that was caused to Mr Eccles."

He said the artificial limb also affected his ability to balance and meant that he could not run.

When confronted with evidence that footprints matching the soles of his trainers were found on the back and front of the Liverpool FC shirt Mr Eccles had been wearing when he was attacked, Keatley said he had "tripped over" as his co-accused attacked Mr Eccles.

He said: "It could have been an accidental touching of my feet when I fell over."

The teenage defendant told the court he could remember nothing of the attack because he was so drunk.

He told the jury he accepted that he had punched and kicked Mr Eccles but was not guilty of murder because he was too drunk to form the requisite intent.

He said: "I accept that I played a part in the attack, from the evidence. I can't recall it.

"I wasn't in the right state of mind to know what I was doing."

Asked if he had intended to cause Mr Eccles serious harm, he said: "I wasn't in the right state of mind for that sort of intent."

The teenager told the court he could remember being in a park with friends before the attack and later being at his home when police arrived to arrest him, but could recall nothing of the intervening period.

Mr Evans dismissed the defence as "nonsense", adding: "He concentrated his kicks and stamps on vulnerable areas of Mr Eccles's body. It wasn't by accident that his head was literally kicked in."

The court heard that forensic experts found imprints on Mr Eccles's chin and chest matched the soles of the teenager's trainers.

Ian Pinkney, Crown Advocate at Staffordshire Crown Prosecution Service, echoed Mr Harrison's comments, describing the murder as "savage beyond comprehension".

In a statement, Mr Pinkney said: "This was a brutal and senseless crime.

"Mr Eccles was just doing some shopping when he had the fatal misfortune to encounter these offenders. The attack that resulted was savage beyond comprehension and resulted in Mr Eccles' untimely and needless death.

"Our thoughts and sympathies are with Mr Eccles' family and friends at this traumatic time and, whilst we acknowledge that no sentence can repair the damage that this appalling crime has caused, we hope that in some small way this verdict helps them to move forward."

In a statement delivered on the court steps following the verdicts, Mr Eccles' brother-in-law John Bayliss said: "As a family, we are very pleased with today's outcome.

"We hope that the sentences that are to be passed will be harsh enough to reflect what a vicious and sustained attack it was on an innocent man.

"I believe in an eye for an eye. In the absence of that, life should mean life - not 15 years or less.

"The sentence must be a deterrent to the feral youths who terrorise our society, apparently above the law.

"We will never forgive this evil pair. They showed no mercy to a defenceless man as he lay dying on the floor.

"Ecky was a great man - a loving father, son, and partner. He had a heart of gold and lived life with a smile and enthusiasm that is seldom seen.

"Through their vicious attack, they may only have stopped one heart, but they have broken many more and left lots of lives shattered.

"We look forward to justice being served. God bless you, Ecky."