Teenagers jailed for life for scythe killing on camping holiday

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The Independent Online

When Terry Hurst arranged to join three acquaintances on a camping expedition in remote moorlands near the Peak District, there was little indication of the violence that would ensue.

When Terry Hurst arranged to join three acquaintances on a camping expedition in remote moorlands near the Peak District, there was little indication of the violence that would ensue.

Less than 24 hours later his body was found in a ditch with a 5ft scythe embedded in his skull and more than 60 wounds across his body.

The three "friends" were jailed for life at Sheffield Crown Court yesterday after pleading guilty to a murder that has baffled detectives and relatives of the victim alike for its apparent lack of motive.

Mr Justice Andrew Smith told John Sawdon, 17, Jermaine James, 17, and 16-year-old Rebecca Peeters that they faced a mandatory life sentence. He said Sawdon would serve a minimum of 15 years before release was considered, while Peeters, who was only 15 at the time of the attack, and James would serve 13 years.

Speaking after sentence was passed, Mr Hurst's foster mother welcomed the verdict. "I would like to say how relieved we are that justice has been done," said Audrey Hurst. "For the past eight months his horrific murder has been with us night and day. The total disbelief of it all will take a long time to sink in, if ever. We are now going to try and bring some normality back to our lives and remember some of the fun times we shared with him."

It was in July last year that the trio invited Mr Hurst, described by police as a Good Samaritan who loved outdoor life, on a camping expedition on picturesque moorland at the Broomhead Reservoir, near Sheffield. Although the victim did not know any of them well, as an avid camper he agreed to join the expedition. The defendants and Mr Hurst set off from the village of Bolsterstone and walked for about a mile before setting up tents.

At some point in the evening, the three defendants returned to the nearby house of Sawdon's adoptive parents to collect some alcohol.

As they made their way back to the tents, they are thought to have picked up two large agricultural scythes from a churchyard. Upon their return, they launched a vicious attack on Mr Hurst after dragging him out of his tent wearing only his boxer shorts and socks.

"Your offence was chilling," Mr Justice Smith said. "You knew he would be defenceless. You found him in a tent and set about him mercilessly.

"After the initial assault, Terry Hurst tried in vain to run. He couldn't escape. You all chased him and caught him and continued the attack. You used scythes to set about him."

As well as attacking him with the scythes, the three teenagers also placed a plastic bag over his head and stamped on it. The victim received more than 60 injuries to his body from the scythes while also suffering a broken jaw and dislodged tooth.

The judge concluded: "You intended to kill him. It was the cruellest of crimes and perhaps the more terrible because teenagers committed it. None of you showed any mercy whatsoever."

As the judge described the violence inflicted on the victim the three defendants showed little emotion, other than Sawdon leaning back in his chair and scowling.

It emerged during the case that Sawdon, who obtained 10 GCSE passes while at school, had convictions for minor dishonesty and suffered from "emotional dislocation". His adoptive parents said he had been bullied at school from the age of 13. The court was told that he was prone to losing his temper and to minor bouts of violence.

Peeters had no convictions but had been cautioned for a "minor matter". Her parents told police that her behaviour had deteriorated in the months leading up to the murder during which she had become prone to violent and abusive outbursts after drinking.

According to the prosecution, she talked to one witness about Mr Hurst before the incident, saying: "Have you seen his hair - its scraggy isn't it? I'm going to end up killing him some day."

The court was told that James had been thrown out of his family home at the age of 16 and left to fend for himself.

His council flat had been raided and stripped, leaving him living rough in one of its cupboards, according to James's defence counsel, Alistair McDonald.

But despite their troubled histories, the lack of apparent motive behind the savager murder left the trial judge and detectives baffled.

The victim, who suffered from learning disabilities and was fostered at 20 months, was originally from the Shiregreen area of Sheffield but had relocated to Penistone, near Barnsley, South Yorkshire.

Mrs Hurst, who fostered him from the age of 20 months, painted a picture of a young man who loved camping and outdoor pursuits.

Detective Inspector Tom Whiteley of South Yorkshire police said of Mr Hardy: "He was a good lad. He has certainly not been in trouble with the police before.

"He would help anyone out and would never cause any particular problems for anyone."

Detective Superintendent Kevin Hardy branded the murder as "unique" as the motive remained unknown. "There is some suggestion of a young girl that Mr Hurst used to go out with who then went out with John Sawdon," he said. "John Sawdon has been known to make threats to people about what he would like to do to Terry and mentioned he would like to kill him.

"Why that would lead to such an horrendous attack is beyond my comprehension.

"This is a unique case. To get three young people to agree to participate in such a horrendous attack is also unique. I do not think it is a reflection of society today."