Judge attacks internet after leering youths filmed 'sick' assault

A senior judge made a passionate plea for the Government to clamp down on disturbing internet images as he jailed four teenagers for a "sickening" attack which they filmed.

The youths leered and smiled into a mobile phone before they savagely beat a homeless man, leaving him for dead. Paul Vickers, 40, was saved by a passer-by, but has been left partly paralysed and blind in his right eye.

The Old Bailey heard that one of the defendants, 17-year-old Oliver Skeggs, who had attacked a man in a wheelchair a week earlier, told police that he thought it would be a laugh.

The assault was inspired by violent images easily accessible on the Web and was itself intended to be uploaded on to the internet. Another member of the gang, Terry Bryan, 19, already had a series of violent clips on his phone, including one of a woman being shot in the head, and another of a hostage being beheaded.

"Paul Vickers was a man who apparently chose to live a quiet life largely on his own and largely on the road ... On that July morning as he lay sleeping, the four of you reached an agreement to subject him to a vicious and cowardly attack, and one that was to be filmed," said Judge David Rennie QC.

"Your actions as a group resulted in him very nearly being killed and has without doubt completely ruined his life. Long after you have served your sentences it seems likely he will continue to suffer physically and/or mentally each and every day. That is the legacy, that is the result of what you chose to do to that man.

"All for what, the sick and sadistic pleasure of giving a man a savage beating and filming it so some of you and others like you could enjoy the replaying of it."

Mr Vickers had been sleeping in a bus shelter in Fishbourne, West Sussex, on 24 July last year when the gang decided he was an easy target and set upon him. They teenagers beat him with a metal wheel brace and stamped on his head. They took a final photograph before abandoning him to die, but a passer-by called the emergency services.

He underwent six hours of surgery, having suffered multiple skull fractures as well as brain injuries, and is now living in a care centre in Bournemouth.

Police never recovered the phone on which the attack was filmed, but Bryan showed footage to a neighbour, who told his mother. She informed the police.

The judge said there was a "direct connection" between graphic images of violence featured on the internet and their decision to film the attack.

"I believe this was copying and adding to the violent images already in circulation," he said. "I urge the Government to continue to investigate this problem to see if there is anything else that can be done to protect people from images that should never be seen."

Three of the teenagers were convicted at Lewes Crown Court, while the fourth admitted the attack.

Yesterday Skeggs, of Chichester, who was said to have been high on skunk at the time of the assault, was given an indeterminate sentence with a minimum term of 13 years after being convicted of attempted murder. He admitting taking part in a robbery seven days earlier, when a 59-year-old man was beaten with a wooden baton at his home.

Alistair Field, 17, of Chichester, who filmed the attack, was jailed for eight years, as was Bryan, after being convicted of grievous bodily harm with intent.

Ross Beeby, 19, of Bognor, West Sussex, was jailed for 12 years after admitting grievous bodily harm with intent. He had grinned at the camera before jumping on Mr Vickers' head.