Jack Woodley: Teens sentenced for gang attack murder

  • Published
Image source, Family handout
Image caption,
Jack Woodley was murdered by a group of youths in Houghton-le-Spring, jurors found

Ten teenagers who murdered an 18-year-old man in a gang attack have been sentenced.

Jack Woodley, 18, died from a single stab wound during an 80-second attack in which he was punched, kicked and stamped upon by 10 youths.

All 10, now aged between 15 and 18, were convicted of murder and sentenced to life with minimum terms of between eight and 17 years.

A murder trial heard Mr Woodley, from Sunderland, had attended the final night of the Houghton Feast funfair in Houghton-le-Spring on 16 October.

Whilst there, he came to the attention of a group of youths who prosecutors said were intent on attacking someone.

He refused when they challenged him to a fight but they followed him out of the fair accompanied by about 30 to 40 youths.

As Mr Woodley neared the Britannia Inn, a 16-year-old boy ran up and punched him from behind triggering a melee during which a 15-year-old boy fatally stabbed Mr Woodley in the back.

Media caption,

Jack Woodley's mother warned others not to carry knives or involve themselves with anyone with a knife

The judge Rodney Jameson QC said each youth, none of whom can be identified, was responsible for Mr Woodley's death but their involvement varied.

He said any of the youths had the opportunity to withdraw from the attack but the "mob mentality took over and it cost Jack his life", although he said not all of them "intended to kill".

The judge said Mr Woodley was "standing on the threshold of his adult life" having got keys to his new home that day and was due to start a new job the following Monday.

"He had much to look forward to and must have been full hopes for the future," he said, adding: "None of those hopes will now be fulfilled."

He said the feast was seen as an "opportunity" by some young people to fight over "trivial rivalries" between neighbouring communities and Mr Woodley was marked by the attackers as being a "townie".

Image caption,
Jack Woodley died in hospital a day after being attacked near the Britannia Inn in Houghton-le-Spring

He said Mr Woodley had "done nothing at all wrong at any time" before the attack while some of the youths at least had gone "intending to become involved in violence".

The minimum terms each youth must serve before they can be considered for parole were:

  • The 15-year-old with the blade who had moved to the North East to escape a city's gang and knife culture to serve at least 17 years
  • The 16-year-old boy who launched the attack must serve at least 13 years six months
  • A 17-year-old who was part of the group who went with the boy to get his knife shortly before the attack to serve at least 15 years
  • An 18-year-old, who was 17 at the time and also part of the group who got the knife but deemed by the judge not to be "particularly bright or an obvious leader", to serve at least 15 years
  • The youngest defendant who was 14 at the time and now 15, to serve eight years as the judge said his youth and low IQ meant he was "not as much to blame as most of the others in the dock"
  • A 15-year-old who was 14 at the time who exchanged friendly "fist bumps" with the victim before the attack and shouted "get the chopper out" to serve at least 13 years
  • A 15-year-old who was 14 at the time to serve at least 10 years as the judge said he was a "fighter" with a history of violent behaviour but a low IQ meaning he was "easily led"
  • A 16-year-old who was 15 at the time to serve at least 11 years after the judge said he was seen for a couple of seconds on mobile phone footage moving towards the brawl with his head concealed by a hood or balaclava, although the youth was not named by any witnesses and did not give any account to police or the court
  • A 16-year-old who was 15 at the time who told the court he grappled Mr Woodley but he had not realised it was the victim and he was trying to stop the attack must serve at least 11 years
  • An 18-year-old who was 17 at the time who the judge said it was a "crying shame" had got "caught up" in the trouble having overcome a low IQ and ADHD to get a job where he was well-regarded must serve at least 11 years

The judge said while it may seem "unfair" the youths could be released from prison at a relatively young age, the loss of Mr Woodley had to be balanced against each defendant's age, individual circumstances, actual involvement in the killing and chances of rehabilitation.

He said no sentence could compensate Mr Woodley's family for their "permanent and irreversible" loss and it was "not a measure of the worth" of his life which was "beyond calculation".

Even once they are deemed suitable for release by a parole board, each boy would remain on licence for the rest of their life, the judge added.

Image source, Crown Prosecution Service
Image caption,
One of the 10 defendants admitted stabbing Jack Woodley with a 9in (25cm) knife

Though each defendant's actions varied, the judge said there were common features in each of their case, including:

  • It was a group attack and Mr Woodley had no chance of defending himself
  • There was premeditation although some of that was "brief" for some of the youths
  • They attacked "solely for the excitement and pleasure" of inflicting at least really serious injury on a randomly selected and entirely innocent stranger"
  • Each boy knew there was a knife and by joining in encouraged its use
  • The violence aside from the stabbing was "appalling" with multiple punches, kicks and stamps.
  • It was committed in public "to the horror" of onlookers
  • All attempts to stop the youths were ignored or met with other violence.
  • None of them attempted to help or get help for Mr Woodley despite knowing he was injured
  • Mr Woodley obviously knew what was going to happen to him when they raised their hoods and he suffered "terror" with one witness saying she had never seen anyone look so terrified

Ahead of the sentencing, the court heard the defendants had expressed "genuine remorse" but the judge said none of the six who gave evidence during the trial had "told the truth" about their involvement and claimed they did not see or could not remember what happened.

"You decided to put the interest of yourself and co-defendants before those of Jack and his family," the judge told them, adding: "You did everything you could to deny them justice."

Image source, Family handout
Image caption,
The judge said Jack Woodley was on the threshold of his adult life with high hopes for the future

He said he understood the youths may "regret what happened for many reasons" but "that is not remorse", which meant being "truly sorry not for what happened but for what you did to make it happen".

The sentencing was delayed slightly due to disturbances outside the court between those attending to watch from the public gallery.

Northumbria Police said three men were arrested on suspicion of breach of the peace and affray.

'Joint enterprise'

The judge said the attack and murder was a "joint enterprise" and the youths "all played a part", while prosecutors had said the presence and actions of each youth emboldened others to join in the attack and created the situation for the fatal stabbing.

Speaking after the sentencing, campaign group Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association, which opposes joint enterprise convictions, said it was "appalled" by the case.

The group is supporting the families of nine of the defendants who said their sons had been "given life sentences for a murder they did not commit".

The families said they were "mindful of the life that was lost" and "deeply saddened" by Mr Woodley's death but the convictions were "not justice", adding: "We will spend the rest of our lives fighting for our children and our children will spend the rest of their lives maintaining their innocence."

Mr Woodley's mother Zoe McGill said all the defendants were "part of it", adding: "If you involve yourself with someone carrying a knife and you are aware they have a knife then you are as much a murderer as them".

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