Teenager sentenced for killing soldier

A teenager who killed a soldier just days before he was returning home to his family for Christmas was detained for two and half years today.

John Flannigan, 17, punched 19-year-old Andrew Gibson in the back of the head during a drunken nightclub attack in Darlington, County Durham.

It was "pay back" for an incident minutes earlier when the Scots Guardsman had punched the teenager.

Teesside Crown Court was shown CCTV footage of Flannigan lashing out with his fist and Mr Gibson falling to the ground.

He hit his head on the dance floor of the Escapade nightclub, causing fatal injuries.

Mr Gibson, from Cumbernauld, Glasgow, was based at Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, and was due to return home for Christmas.

The soldier was being posted to Afghanistan in the New Year with his regiment and friends said he was "very happy and looking forward" to going.

Mr Gibson, who had joined the Army after leaving school, had gone out with friends on December 11 for a last night out before heading home to his family.

Rachel Masters, prosecuting, said: "No blame is attached to Mr Gibson and there was no suggestion of self defence.

"A witness saw the defendant punch Andrew Gibson to the back of the head. Andrew Gibson fell down to the floor and his head is described as bouncing off the floor with his hands round by his side.

"The witness thought he was unconscious."

Mr Gibson was taken to the James Cook Memorial Hospital, in Middlesbrough, by ambulance, but died from head injuries on December 17.

Flannigan told police that he punched Mr Gibson after he had hit him.

He said: "That's him that's hit me, so I hit him."

Asked by detectives whether it was "payback", Flannigan replied: "Yeah, that's what I thought."

Flannigan, of Geneva Road, Darlington, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to manslaughter.

Nicholas de la Poer, defending, said that Flannigan had been the victim of an unprovoked assault minutes earlier and struck out at the person he believed responsible.

"Mr Flannigan acknowledges that whatever hardship, suffering or inconvenience a custodial sentence causes him in the coming months and years that's nothing compared to what the Gibson family are feeling," he told the court.

"He recognises what he did was nothing short of terrible, with terrible consequences."

A packed public gallery, including Mr Gibson's parents Freddy and Linda, listened as Judge Peter Fox QC, Recorder of Middlesbrough, passed sentence.

"I sentence you on the factual basis, which the prosecution have accepted, that you had minutes before been struck once to the face by Mr Gibson," the judge said.

"When you recognised him as being the person responsible for having struck you, you believed there would be further trouble and you threw your punch.

"As you said in your interview to the police 'it was payback'."

Speaking after the sentencing, Detective Superintendent Neil Malkin, of Durham Police, said: "Andrew Gibson was a young soldier enjoying an evening of relaxation before starting a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

"It is an enduring tragedy that a single, thoughtless act cost him his life. His family have lost a loving son and the country has lost a promising soldier.

"His death should serve as a strong warning to others about the dangers of engaging in violent behaviour."

In a statement released after the hearing, Mr and Mrs Gibson said: "The sentence delivered today is definitely not enough.

"We are extremely disappointed at the length of sentence handed down and plan on appealing this through the Crown appeal process.

"Andrew was a loving son who would do anything for anybody.

"We are so proud of him and his achievements.

"He had so much to give and was full of the joys of life. He has been robbed of his future, his hopes and his dreams.

"We just keep wishing he would walk through the door with his cheeky grin.

"Andrew was also a dedicated soldier.

"His dream of going to Afghanistan in the service of his Queen and country was taken away from him.

"Andrew's death has affected our lives and also those of his friends and family - we have been handed a life sentence of pain, grief and 'what ifs'.

"The person who killed Andrew may be free to live his life by the time he is the same age Andrew was when he died.

"The person who killed Andrew will have to live with what he has done for the rest of his life."

The couple called for tougher punishments for licensed premises that allow under-18s entry.

"If anything positive is to come from Andrew's death, we hope nightclubs ensure no one under the age of 18 is allowed entry and licensing authorities deal harshly with those who allow children on the premises," they said.

"We also believe nightclubs should be forced to install CCTV which covers all areas so trouble can be stopped before it becomes serious.

"We would like to thank the Army, and in particular the officers and men of 1st Battalion Scots Guards, Durham Police and our friends for all the support they have given us.

"Andrew didn't deserve to die. We have lost a truly wonderful son, and the Army has lost a committed soldier.

"We will never forget him."