Homophobic killers jailed as gay-hate crimes soar

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The Independent Online

Two men who punched and kicked a gay barman to death as if they were " trying to kill an animal" were jailed for a minimum of 28 years yesterday.

The sentencing came as it emerged that the number gay-hate crime cases being dealt with by the courts almost doubled in the past year, to 600 investigations. But campaigners warn that the prosecution rate represents a fraction of the true scale of the problem.

Jody Dobrowski, a 24-year-old barman, sustained 33 separate injuries during the attack on Clapham Common in October last year. His killers, Thomas Pickford, 25, and Scott Walker, 33, showed no emotion as they were jailed for life after admitting to the murder at the Old Bailey. The court heard how Mr Dobrowski's body was beaten so severely that his family did not recognise him, and had to identify him by his fingerprints.

He was walking home when he was set upon by Walker, a decorator, and Pickford, who is unemployed. Judge Brian Barker said their only intention was "homophobic thuggery".

Sheri Dobrowski, the murdered man's mother, spoke of the "unacceptable" levels of homophobia in society, which had in her view contributed to his murder. Reading from a statement outside court, and with many of her son's family standing with her, she said: "In a free and democratic society, Jody's murder was an outrage."

"Jody was not the first man to be killed, or terrorised, or beaten, or humiliated for being homosexual ­ or for being perceived to be homosexual. Tragically, he will not be the last man to suffer the consequences of homophobia, which is endemic in this society. We cannot accept this. No intelligent, healthy or reasonable society could."

Following the sentence, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) disclosed it tried, between April 2005 and March this year, to bring 600 cases with a homophobic element to court. Of these, 346 resulted in a guilty plea and another 80 were convicted after standing trial ­ a conviction rate of 71 per cent.

The CPS said it was concerned that more than a quarter of planned prosecutions had to be abandoned after a victim refused to give evidence, retracted it or failed to turn up in court.

For years "gay-bashing" was a hidden crime, rarely reported to police and not recognised by the courts. There are still no specific offences of homophobia, but judges can now use motivation on the basis of sexual orientation as an aggravating factor when fixing a sentence.

The penalty handed down yesterday to Mr Dobrowski's killers is thought to be the first time that has happened. His stepfather, Mike Haddock, said: " No sentence will be long enough. It is not a comfort, but it is justice."

Efforts to encourage victims to come forward are thought to be the main cause of the recent surge in prosecutions. There were between 130 and 150 convictions in 2003-04, and 317 in 2004-05. These still represent a small proportion of the number of complaints to police. Mr Dobrowski's killing was one of 1,346 homophobic crimes reported in London alone between 2004 and 2005, a rise of 9 per cent on the previous year. Last night, the gay rights group Stonewall called for the Government to consider introducing an offence of incitement to homophobic hatred.

According to Andrew Buckingham, the spokesman for the charity Victim Support, the actual scale of the problem is far higher than official figures suggested. He said: "There is anecdotal evidence that some victims may not be treated with sensitivity and respect by the police.

"Victims may worry that by reporting an incident they may be 'outed'. They may also fear intimidation and reprisals from their attacker and their family if they report the case."