Teenage gang threw student to his death 'for fun'

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The Independent Online

A street gang, whose members included a teenage girl and two teenage boys, was convicted yesterday of murdering a law student who was beaten senseless and then thrown into the Thames. They had no apparent motive other than "fun".

As the verdicts against the six gang members were delivered at the Old Bailey, they burst into tears. Judge Goddard remanded them in custody while reports were prepared but warned they faced life sentences when they were brought back next month.

The gang members, all from London, were convicted of killing Timothy Baxter, 24, in July last year when they set upon him and his friend Gabriel Cornish, 25, as the pair walked home from a nightclub in the early hours. On Hungerford Bridge they encountered three members of the gang who were quickly joined by the other three who were coincidentally crossing the footbridge from the other direction.

The gang set upon the students, knocking them to the floor and stamping on Mr Cornish's head. The girl - who was 15 at the time - is said to have urged the others to throw the pair into the Thames "because it would be fun".

Mr Baxter, a philosophy graduate from Manchester University who was due to take up a law course later in the year, drowned. His body was recovered 24 hours later. Mr Cornish, spent 20 minutes in the water, but managed to survive and raise the alarm.

During their month-long hunt for the killers, police found CCTV footage that showed the killers laughing, kissing and chanting the words to the rap song "Murder She Wrote" within minutes of the killing.

The killers - Sonni Reid, aged 20, John Riches, 22, Cameron Cyrus, 18, a 17-year-old boy, a 15-year-old boy and the girl, now aged 16 - all denied murder and attempted murder, and tried to blame each other. The last three cannot be named for legal reasons.

After the verdict, Mr Baxter's parents, Sam and Linda, who now live in West Wales, said they could never forgive the killers. Mr Baxter's father, a consultant psychiatrist, said: "We feel pain, grief and anger. The perpetrators of this crime have mindlessly killed our only child. Entirely without provocation, they punched, kicked and stamped on Timo and his friend Gabriel until they were unconscious, then threw them in the river 40 feet below.

"It is remarkable Gabriel survived. We cannot forgive them for taking our son away. Family and friends are devastated by his loss.

"Timo was a thoughtful, talented, peaceful young man, with a great sense of humour, loved and respected by those who knew him. We are proud to be his parents."

Detective Chief Inspector David Shipperlee, who headed the investigation, said: "This was an appalling crime. London is a vibrant place - the West End is open all night. There are thousands of people who at any time of night are making their way home. They should feel safe to do that."

The court had been told the gang members - some of who were homeless - spent most of their time in the West End. On the day before the attack they had been drinking after buying alcohol from a 24-hour offlicence. Three of the gang went on to mug a man watching the sunrise on the Embankment.

In his evidence, Mr Cornish told the court he had appealed to the gang to stop their assault. "I said 'help us'. They didn't say anything at all. Someone hit me over the head. I fell. I remember being kicked in the mouth, the nose and the back and the back of the head. I passed out."

During the trial, Riches said Reid had boasted of throwing five other people into the river and also claimed to have shot someone. But after the verdict Mr Shipperlee said no bodies had been recovered to link to such crimes.