Man convicted over murder of abuse suspect

By Ian Herbert
Tuesday 19 February 2002 01:00

A man was convicted yesterday of murdering a retired merchant seaman whom he suspected of being a paedophile despite his acquittal on a child abuse charge.

After deliberating for more than 23 hours, a jury at Hull Crown Court found that Gary Lawson, 20, was guilty of pouring turpentine through Alf Wilkins' letterbox, setting fire to it and killing him, in February last year. Mr Wilkins, 67, perished in his Grimsby ground floor flat. Lawson and his girlfriend, Chantelle Day, 16, had earlier been found guilty of conspiring to cause Mr Wilkins grievous bodily harm – relating to an attack eight days before the killing. As the jury returned, Lawson hurled racist abuse at police officers who were standing in the public gallery.

The jury is yet to reach a verdict on Ian Lawless, 40, who is also charged with murder and a third man, Gary Fairbanks, 43, who is charged with incitement to commit murder. Both men deny the offences.

The jury was told Day wrote a blueprint foreshadowing the murder, detailing how she planned to break into Mr Wilkins' flat, put socks in his mouth, pour petrol all over him and then ignite it.

Mr Lawless, a pub cellarman, was allegedly the look-out for his godson, Lawson, who poured the turpentine into the flat, struck a match and created a fire that smouldered and produced toxic gases that suffocated Mr Wilkins and his 12-year-old dog. Lawson was 19 at the time of the attack, which came three months after Mr Wilkins was cleared by Grimsby Crown Court of indecently assaulting a nine-year-old girl.

Evidence at Lawson's trial has included the police statement Mr Wilkins gave when he was the victim of the earlier attack, in which he described how, eight days before his death, he was at home watching television when he saw "a kitchen light come on and a figure walk ... in front of the door," in front of him.

"As soon as I got up in the hall, I saw a figure come up to punch me in the body area. I saw a second figure with a stick and was struck on the forehead," he had told officer investigating the attack.

Justice Grigson told the jury: "To deliver a verdict, you must consider the evidence in this case in a cool and calm manner." The jury continues its deliberations on the other two accused men today.