Dominic Lawson: A horrible death and the need for justice

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Luke Rees-Pulley was one of those lucky people who achieve the ambition they had nurtured since childhood. Luke Rees-Pulley's childhood dream was to be a bus driver. At the age of five he visited Mortlake Bus Garage, and was instantly captivated by the sight of all the Routemaster buses lined up. One of the drivers, seeing Luke's excitement, put him in the driving seat, and then took him for a short ride. The boy's mind was made up, and from that point never wavered: he would be a bus-driver, too.

Of course, lots of little boys want to be bus drivers. But, especially if they are middle-class little boys, their parents usually manage to persuade them that they should join one of the great professions. And Luke was very much from the well-to-do middle class. His father is a senior partner in one of Britain's biggest accountancy firms and his mother works at the local doctor's surgery. So Luke initially went to the ferociously academic St Paul's School and in due course gained a university place.

But on his gap year, while his schoolfriends backpacked around the globe, Luke took himself to the offices of London General and spent the year driving buses. Despite his parents' entreaties that he do the degree course that he had qualified to study, Luke obstinately followed his heart's desire and became a permanent night driver on the route from Kingston to the West End for London General buses. He was, of course, as happy as a man knows how to be.

Luke was by all accounts an extraordinarily gentle and kindly soul. So one advantage of doing the night shift was that he could do his bit for the homeless. On the wettest nights, those without a roof to put over their heads would wait at the bus stops on Luke's route. He would allow them to sit at the back of the bus, protected from the elements as he drove backwards and forwards on his tour of duty. On his last run home he would drop them off until the next time.

But Luke's concern for the destitute was to lead to his death, at the age of 30, in the most horrible of circumstances. On the night of 21st January 2005 - one of his evenings off - Luke Rees-Pulley met 25 year old Mark Turner. Mark Turner was homeless, and, according to the police "had a natural ability to engage people in conversation and enter their confidence". That skill had already enabled Turner, earlier that night, to befriend a New Zealand tourist, enter his rented flat, and steal his rucksack. Now he entered Luke Rees-Pulley's flat in Kingston.

What happened next almost defies belief. A court was told that Luke had "bled to death after a single stab wound to the neck severed a main artery". Technically, that was indeed the cause of death. But I have seen the photographs of the crime scene. Every room in Luke's flat was smeared with blood. He had run from room to room in an attempt to evade his attacker.

As his father, Richard Rees-Pulley, told me: "Luke was a big guy but so gentle and loving. He had no concept of how to fight; it would surprise me if he could even make a proper fist."

In his desperate attempt to avoid a fight with Turner, Luke sustained 77 injuries. When, finally, he was lying prone on the floor, Turner smashed a vodka bottle on his head with such force that blood was spattered on the ceiling.

What was Mark Turner's motive? Luke was gay: an article about him in his school magazine says that : "Luke came out to his friends when he was 18 and he became a well-known and charismatic figure on the London gay scene, renowned for his flamboyant dress sense as well as for his ebullient personality."" Was his murder a ghastly example of what used to be called queerbashing?

The police insisted to me that "there is no reason to believe that Turner's assault was homophobic", and point out that since he stole some of Luke's belongings, including his watch, it was logical for them to conclude that this was a case of burglary involving extreme violence.

And what of Turner? At the time of the murder he had 48 cautions to his name, mostly involving minor acts of violence. His most recent offence had been affray, threatening behaviour, and assault, for which he was sentenced to four months in prison. He was released after only two months, because , in line with the dishonesty which permeates our criminal sentencing policy, no one serving a sentence of less than four years ever serves more than half his time. Exactly two weeks after his early release Mark Turner butchered Luke Rees-Pulley.

The reason I know about all this is because Luke's father saw that I had written about the case of John Monckton, who was murdered by a violent criminal on early release - the official report into which is published today - and he contacted me to help get his son's case investigated: not a single word about Luke's murder was printed in any national newspaper. So much for Sir Ian Blair's assertion that the press is overpreoccupied by the murders of middle-class whites.

Although he was arrested within hours of the murder, Turner initially denied having anything to do with Luke. As a result, says his father, "the post-mortem had to be conducted by a pathologist for the defence as well as the prosecution. This would have been unnecessary if Turner had pleaded guilty at the outset.

"The fact that he didn't meant that we were not able to get our son's body back for burial until nearly a month later, by which time, on the undertaker's advice, due to the deterioration of the body, we could not see or hold our son one more time. You cannot imagine how hurtful and painful that was." Then Turner claimed that he was insane. Eventually four different psychiatrists interviewed and assessed him. Their conclusion was that he was not insane but suffered from "anti-social behaviour disorder". In plain English: bad, not mad.

On the day before his trial Turner suddenly changed his plea to guilty, according to Luke's father "because having concluded the game was up he wanted to take advantage of the tariff". The judge gave Turner a 13 year minimum sentence, reduced to 12 years after remand was taken into account.

Luke's parents were appalled by the value this appeared to place on Luke's life: the police raised the matter with the Crown Prosecution Service but were told that the term is "in accordance with sentencing guidelines". I fear it is.

During the last general election campaign Lord Falconer, the Prime Minister's cuddly consiglieri, pledged that if Labour won, the families of murder victims would have "legal representation in court" the cost of which would be met out of legal aid. This election promise has not yet been honoured. Lord Falconer proclaimed: "New Labour is on the side of the victims of crime." Those families don't need New Labour on their side. They need justice.