September 2nd, 2007 05:29 EST
U.K. Youths guilty of Ernest Norton manslaughter
Five youths from Bexley have today been found guilty of manslaughter and violent disorder.
Their convictions follow an investigation by the Met's Homicide and Serious Crime Command into the death of 67 year old Ernest Norton in Erith on Sunday 26 February, 2006.
The court heard that Mr Norton was with his 17 year old son James at Erith Leisure Centre that afternoon.
They were practicing bowling on one of the tennis courts at the centre with Mr Norton catching his son's throws from behind a set of stumps.
At around 3.45 pm, a group of between ten to 15 youths approached the court and began to shout abuse at James and then at Mr Norton. They had previously been sent away from the sports centre by the manager for misbehaving.
Mr Norton remonstrated with the youths; some walked away but the remainder continued to shout abuse. Some tried to climb the wire fence. They then began to throw stones and sticks of wood at Mr Norton and his son.James, told the court his father walked towards the gate where the youths were and then collapsed. There was a dent and a wound to his left temple where one of the stones had hit him. It was bleeding and he appeared unconscious. An off duty police officer who had been using the centre attempted to resuscitate Mr Norton as did an LAS paramedic but he was declared dead at the scene.
A Post Mortem examination concluded that Mr Norton died from heart failure, aggravated by a previous medical condition and injury to the head. Local officers arrested 13 youths near the scene that Sunday evening after witnesses reported seeing youths in the area throwing stones. Over the following weeks, the number arrested rose to 21 youths.
All but six were subsequently released without charge. Forensic examination of the coat Mr Norton was wearing revealed DNA indicating that he had been spat at by one of the six. Stones recovered from the ground around where Mr Norton fell revealed further DNA evidence which linked another of the six youths to the attack.
Medical experts told the court that Mr Norton had an existing heart condition following triple bypass surgery 30 years ago. Since that time, he had not suffered from any symptoms. He had adopted a healthy lifestyle including sensible eating and gentle exercise such as the game of cricket he was playing with his son before the attack. But the combined trauma of the name-calling, stone throwing and fall to the ground had led to the heart attack that killed him, they concluded.
At court today DCI Phil Adams said:
"We share the shock felt by members of the public at seeing five young boys appearing at court accused of homicide, the most serious of crimes.
"This was a completely unprovoked attack on a decent, law abiding man who was with his family on what should have been an enjoyable afternoon, by a gang of youths, who despite their age were spoiling for trouble.
"It is difficult to comprehend but at some point, for some reason, the behaviour of these boys turned from name calling and jeering to violence.
"They must live with the consequences of their actions, just as the Norton family has to."
DCI Adams added that anti social behaviour is a major issue of concern to the public all over London. "Local police are responding with a number of strategies that involve enforcing the law and working with partners to provide worthwhile activities.
"For example, in Bexley, police have just successfully obtained an anti social behaviour order against a 16 year old boy; they are extending the use of dispersal zones to break up groups of youths whose behaviour is causing trouble and they are mounting special operations to tackle licensees selling alcohol to under age children.
"At the same time, they are working with the council, housing associations and other agencies to provide a full range of diversionary activities and engagement with young people."