Woman convicted over innocent shopper's death

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A woman was behind bars today for the manslaughter of an innocent shopper after a supermarket queue-jumping row.

Antonette Richardson, whose conviction was met with cheers from her victim's relatives, was at her boyfriend's side, "egging" him on as he wrongly thought 57-year-old Kevin Tripp was to blame.

Tony Virasami marched over and accused Mr Tripp of "messing with my wife".

Then, without giving him a chance to reply, he delivered a "most almighty" blow to his head.

As the powerful "haymaker" hurled him to the ground, his head slammed on to the floor, causing severe damage.

The six-man, six-woman jury trying the eight-day case saw graphic CCTV footage of the unprovoked attack, with the last shot capturing the fatally injured man's feet at the bottom of the frame.

The blood-spattered ME sufferer, from Colliers Wood, south London, who had a five-year-old daughter, died shortly afterwards in hospital.

Virasami, 38, on bail, tagged and under curfew for shoplifting, was arrested at the scene.

Richardson, 37, was detained the following day at their home in Sedgehill Road, Catford, south east London.

Both were charged with Mr Tripp's manslaughter on June 10 last year.

He eventually pleaded guilty but she protested her innocence, insisting she had never wanted anyone harmed.

The jury spent seven hours and seven minutes considering the evidence before deciding she was lying.

As the 11-1 majority verdict was announced, Richardson bowed her head slightly and closed her eyes, while tears, shouts of "yes", and a celebratory shaking of fists came from members of her victim's family.

One of her relatives also began sobbing.

Richardson and her lover will be sentenced on a date to be fixed.

Remanding her in custody for a pre-sentence report, Judge Geoffrey Rivlin QC told her: "This is a serious case. Bail will be refused."

She will be dealt with on a date to be fixed.

The court heard Richardson, who has previous convictions for deception and handling stolen goods more than 20 years ago, went to the store in Merton, south west London, to buy 10 cigarettes.

Not long afterwards, a "foul-mouthed" Adam Prendergast accused her of pushing in.

"I was quite shocked. I didn't think I was pushing in front of anyone," she told jurors.

"It went on for quite a while.

"He got very aggressive. He was threatening to knock me out if I dared say anything else to him. I didn't say anything else to him. I was too frightened of his reaction.

"I was really upset."

She insisted her first thought was to ring her boyfriend waiting in a car outside and ask him to get her.

Richardson also claimed all she wanted to do was to leave "safely" and return home to her daughter, who had given birth a few months earlier.

But as soon as Virasami stormed into the store demanding to know who was responsible, she indicated Mr Prendergast, shouting: "That is him, that is him."

Thinking she was pointing at Mr Tripp, he hit him instead.

Some witnesses described the blow that followed as an open-handed slap.

But shopper Keith Lambert said he believed a clenched fist had been used and spoke of a hard "haymaker punch, a wide sweep... against the man's head", accompanied by a "loud smack".

Richardson maintained she was as "shocked" as anyone else at the turn of events.

"I was shouting 'no', trying to shout 'stop, what are you doing?'.

"I was absolutely disgusted. I was absolutely mortified. I couldn't believe what he had done. I was totally shocked.

"I couldn't believe that he had hit someone. Not only that, but he had hit the wrong person," she said.

But Michael Worsley QC, prosecuting, said comments made by her and overheard by three independent witnesses clearly showed she had not wanted Mr Prendergast - who fled after seeing Mr Tripp's fate - to get away with his behaviour.

Store manager Philip Jeal told jurors he had been on his way home when he was informed of the incident.

Seconds later, he saw Mr Tripp on the floor near the cigarette kiosk "bleeding quite heavily from the head".

He said: "It was a bit chaotic at the time."

After telling Virasami "enough damage had been done", he pointed out he had attacked an innocent person.

Mr Jeal said that prompted Richardson to say: "Yes, we need to find the right guy."

Two others called to give evidence agreed.

One recalled her saying: "It is not him, it is the other guy." Another heard her say: "You have got the wrong man."

Mr Worsley told those trying the case: "Her boyfriend had hit what turned out to be the wrong person who was lying on the floor bleeding and she says 'We need to find the right guy'.

"When you are considering what her purpose and intent was at the time when she fetched or caused the other defendant to come to the premises, when you are considering her state of mind, these words give a significant clue."

He added that they might also consider whether Richardson's hasty departure from the store a few minutes later was "flight due to guilt on her part", her role in egging Virasami on.

Outside court Mr Tripp's sister, Gillian, said: "The family are pleased that the ordeal of this trial is over and a just verdict has been reached.

"We will never get over the loss of our Kevin and the manner in which he died.

"Kevin was a loving partner, a great dad and a great brother.

"We hope and pray that the appropriate sentence is now given."

When asked what the "most important thing" was for the family, another of Mr Tripp's sisters, Laurel, replied: "That they get as long as they deserve."

Josephine James, his partner of 17 years, then added: "It is the right verdict. We have been waiting for this since last year and now it has come out the right way.

"Now I am just waiting for them to be put away for as long as possible, but I know they probably won't get as long as they deserve.

"Kevin only went shopping in Sainbury's in a queue. I wish I was there. I should have been there with him."

At this point she burst into tears and had to be led away by family members.

After the hearing Mr Tripp's partner Josie James paid an emotional tribute to the man she met on a blind date in 1995.

She said: "Although Kevin was not well with ME, he looked after Rianna for the first 18 months while I went back to work.

"He was there when Rianna started walking at nine months; he was there when she held her pen for the first time, when she drew her first pictures. Kevin would pin them to the cupboard doors alongside his pictures because she wanted to know how to draw horses and animals.

"Now when I look across the room, Kevin isn't there and I find life so hard without him. He only went to the supermarket, he didn't have cancer or a heart attack, he was standing in a queue and a stranger punched him.

"One of the last images my Rianna and I have of Kev is in the hospital on apparatus to keep him alive, bruised, yellow and so very, very cold. I had to explain to our five-year-old daughter that daddy was in hospital and to try and get her to visit him. She only made it to his curtains.

"She talks about daddy having all the wires in him. I was there when they took all the wires away, holding his hands saying that we loved him, and then Kev was gone, but not forgotten. I cannot express how much we miss Kev.

"That he was able to be such a strong and supportive partner, father and brother despite being affected by ME is testament to his character. He extended this strength of character to others affected by the disease by running a support group."

In a joint statement after the hearing Mr Tripp's sisters, Gillian, Laurel and Joan, and brother Derek said: "Kevin was a wonderful brother and a special member of our family. He was three years younger than his sister Gilly from whom he was inseparable as a child.

"He had polio when he was six, which meant for a year the family could only look at him through a hospital window.

"It was a difficult year without him, but he fought his illness and was special to all of us. Kevin was there to support us when we went through difficult times here day and night, yet his life was ended in seconds and none of us had a chance to say goodbye.

"With Kevin's death we find it impossible to understand how someone can be so violent as to cause the death of dear Kevin. We do not understand how someone would get so angry over something like queue jumping that they can hit someone and cause their death. That neither has shown signs of remorse in court, even smiling at us during a previous hearing, makes it even harder to deal with and means we can never forgive them."

And Detective Inspector Bob Campany, from the Homicide and Serious Crime Command, who led the investigation, said: "The death of Kevin Tripp has devastated his family. I am glad that we have secured two convictions that reflect the level of responsibility Virasami and Richardson had in his death.

"Virasami's reckless actions represent a spectacular over reaction. They can in no way be justified even if Kevin had been the man who offended Richardson. The fact that he wasn't makes it even more reprehensible.

"I am particularly pleased that the jury have recognised the role played by Richardson. It was her fatal decision to call Virasami that ultimately set off the chain of events that end with Kevin's death. It was her clear intention that he gain revenge for her and she made no effort to calm him down as they made their way through the shopping centre, even though it as clear Virasami was likely to assault someone.

"I hope this sends a clear message to violent people who cannot control their emotions and those that incite them. We will seek to convict everyone concerned, no matter who committed the assault."