Five boys aged between 12 and 14 wept yesterday as they were imprisoned for two years for killing a father who collapsed with a heart attack after being pelted with stones and rocks.
Ernest Norton, 67, was playing cricket with his teenage son when he was attacked in February 2006. The pair came under a hail of missiles and two rocks – one the size of a half-brick – hit Mr Norton's head, fracturing his cheekbone and temple. He fell to the ground and suffered a fatal heart attack.
The boys, one of whom was just ten at the time, were convicted of violent disorder and manslaughter. Judge Warwick McKinnon, passing sentence, said their conduct was "utterly disgraceful and criminally irresponsible". The boys, who are among the youngest ever to appear at the Old Bailey, wept and hugged their parents as they were sentenced. A victim impact statement by Mr Norton's wife, Linda, was read out by the prosecution counsel, Anthony Orchard. In it, she said the killing had had a "dramatic effect" on their two children, adding: "We are still trying to be normal and enjoy ourselves again but I don't think I ever will."
Mr Norton was practising bowling with his son James, 17, and had set up stumps in a tennis court at Erith leisure centre in Kent when they were approached by up to 20 youths, the court was told. The gang began shouting abuse including "rubbish bowler" and "go back to the old people's home".
Mr Norton tried to scare them off but they threw stones, rocks and wood at him and he collapsed, bleeding heavily. "We were just keeping ourselves to ourselves," James had told the court. "It just seemed they wanted to pick on someone."
The gang had earlier been smashing windows and trying to pick a fight with other children, jurors heard.
Judge McKinnon told the defendants, who will serve their time in youth detention centres: "This was a vicious, entirely unprovoked and sustained group attack involving a barrage of missiles. You attacked the most unfortunate Ernest Norton, who just happened to be there enjoying a quiet Sunday afternoon in the park with his son.
"He was entirely innocent. First you abused him and his son, then spat at him and then launched a barrage of missiles at him."
Mr Norton's widow was in court with James, her daughter Gemma, son-in-law Wayne and Gemma's eight-week-old daughter Ceinwen. In her statement, she told the court: "Life was flowing along lovely, everything was normal. Then, bang, your life is turned upside down and you have to run on automatic."
Mrs Norton said she often felt "lost, irritable and lonely", adding: "When I see other couples out, especially older couples, I think to myself, 'They are together, why aren't we?'."
Describing the effect on James, now 19, she said: "Not only was he there and watched his dad die in front of him, he lost his role model. Now his dad has gone we try to support each other."Reuse content