Two found guilty of sergeant's murder: Widow backs campaign for protective vests for police officers

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A MAN and a teenage boy were found guilty last night of murdering a police sergeant who was stabbed and beaten with sticks while dealing with a trivial incident on a housing estate.

Paul Weddle, 26, was jailed for life, and Phillip English, 16, will be detained during Her Majesty's Pleasure. The jury at Teesside Crown Court returned guilty verdicts after deliberating for three hours. In Weddle's case the decision was unanimous, while there was a 10-2 majority to convict English.

Sgt Bill Forth, 34, a father-of-two, was attacked by the pair when he and a colleague, Constable Bill Hay, went to Clover Hill Estate at Sunniside, near Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, in March last year, in response to a call about Weddle smashing a window.

As PC Hay made inquiries at the house where the damage occurred, Sgt Forth returned to ensure their car was safe, having already had a confrontation with Weddle and English, who shouted taunts at them. But when he came face-to- face with them again, they were armed with lengths of fencing and set about him. During the struggle Weddle was heard by onlookers to shout 'Kill him, kill him'.

PC Hay rushed to help and saw Sgt Forth struggling to stay on his feet while trying to ward off Weddle in front, as English - holding a piece of wood with both hands - rained blows on him from behind.

English ran off but PC Hay brought him to the ground with a rugby tackle and arrested him.

Meanwhile, Weddle stabbed the sergeant at least seven times, one of the thrusts piercing his heart.

Despite efforts to save him at hospital, he was thought to have died soon after the blow was struck.

Weddle, of Felling, and English, of Sunniside, denied murder. Sentencing them, Mr Justice Owen said they did 'a terrible thing . . . I regard offences against police officers as particularly heinous'. The two showed no emotion and English waved to relatives as they were led away.

During the eight-day trial, the court heard of a night's drinking, drug-taking and lighter fuel sniffing around a bonfire in a local woodland clearing much frequented by local youths.

Weddle, described as immature for his age, was upset because a girlfriend, Nicola Robinson, then aged 15, quickly broke off their relationship. After hearing she had a new boyfriend - Gary Gray, another youth in the group - Weddle went in search of him.

After his rival refused to come out of Nicola's home to face him, Weddle - fired up by drink and drugs - smashed the lounge window with the length of fencing he was carrying. This incident led to Sgt Forth and PC Hay being called to the estate.

Defence counsel argued that Weddle and English's minds had been impaired by a mixture of alcohol, the drug Temazepam, and lighter fuel sniffing. The court was also told how English had taken an LSD tablet that night. It was also claimed that Weddle's drink had been 'spiked' with drugs.

When the verdicts were read out, Sgt Forth's widow, Gill, broke down, burying her face in her hands and sobbing loudly in relief.

At the end of the hearing the judge commended people who went to Sgt Forth's aid, including one man who chased off Weddle by beating him with a rolling pin, and a nurse who gave first aid.

After the hearing, Mrs Forth, 35, said: 'I don't believe in capital punishment but I believe life should mean life and they should stay behind bars for the rest of their lives.

'Justice has been done. I don't believe that all policemen should be armed, but I do want the campaign in Northumbria for protective vests for police officers to be spread to the rest of the country.'