An 11-year-old schoolboy who coped courageously with cystic fibrosis was murdered by another pupil who used their school's mentoring system to lure him to his death.
Joe Geeling was stabbed to death and buried in a tree-lined gully in Bury, Greater Manchester, by Michael Hamer, 15, who was sentenced to life in jail yesterday after admitting the crime. He will serve at least 12 years.
Hamer, who was 14 at the time of the murder, was being bullied at St Gabriel's RC High School by boys who were briefly excluded for taking his dinner money from him. A few months later, in part to reassert his own personality, he singled out Joe, who was the smallest boy in his class as a result of his illness.
Hamer wrote a fictitious letter to him, purporting to be from the deputy head and telling him that he was to go home with him as they had been paired under the school's system of older pupils mentoring younger ones.
"I have given the address to your mum and she will meet you at the house at 4.30pm tonight," Hamer wrote. "Sorry for the inconvenience. Do not discuss this with anyone else as this will cause confusion."
Hours before the murder, Joe's teacher saw the letter. She realised it was a hoax and told Joe to see the deputy head about it. But nothing was done to stop Joe going to Hamer's house, where he was beaten to death with a frying pan and stabbed 16 times.
The lives of Joe and his killer were very different. Despite a condition that required overnight hospital treatment for two weeks every three months and impaired his growth, Joe was always "100mph", Manchester Crown Court was told. He had been in his primary school choir, and was in the local Crusaders motorbike club with his father.
While in hospital, he would go to school as normal and in the evenings return to hospital. He never complained about his illness and enjoyed playing video games with other children on the ward.
By contrast, Hamer suffered from "infrequent and intermittent" contact with his father - a policeman, who left the child's mother before he was born.
He was affected by having heard his father tell his mother that he had no feelings for him and he struggled to integrate at school, where he was at the "low end of average" ability.
Hamer tended to associate with children three years below his own age group - his extra years giving him, for once, some respect. He made an "adolescent sexual approach" to Joe, which was rejected.
Soon after lunch on the day of his death, the fake letter - written in red ink after three earlier drafts in which Hamer honed his letter-writing technique - was being passed around. Joe went to the deputy head's office but by chance was intercepted there by Hamer.
Minutes later, and again by chance, the two teachers who first saw the note saw Joe and Hamer in the corridor. They questioned Joe, who looked to Hamer for approval as he answered their questions. The teachers were interrupted when a fire alarm was set off, and everyone filed out to the playground before returning to class.
Hamer's letter was discovered with Joe's body, stained with his blood, in the gully in Whitehead Park, Bury. Hamer told police he had beaten Joe with a pan because he had interfered with a photograph of his deceased step-brother. But Hamer had not even met the step-brother.
Joe's father, Tom, described how, despite his illness, Joe had a no self-pity. "He understood those were the cards God had dealt to him and together we made the best of what we had," he said.
The couple's knowledge about how their son had suffered throughout his ordeal had been "enough to break any man, let alone a loving and devoted mother."Reuse content