Man 'guilty' of supplying petrol to suicidal friend told to expect prison sentence of "a number of years" (From The Northern Echo)
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Bishop Auckland man found 'guilty' of supplying petrol to suicidal friend told to expect prison sentence of "a number of years"
A MAN who handed petrol and a lighter to a suicidal friend shortly before he set himself ablaze was today (Thursday September 12) told to expect to spend “a number of years” behind bars.
The warning was given to 20-year-old Kevin James Howe after he was convicted of encouraging or assisting in suicide or an attempt at suicide, following a trial at Durham Crown Court.
Howe, who denied the charge, bought £4 worth of unleaded petrol and an 89p disposable lighter at a filling station in Bishop Auckland, County Durham.
He then took them to the house of Stephen Walker, on the town’s Woodhouse Close Estate, where the pair had been drinking heavily for most of the day, on Sunday May 26.
Neighbours saw Howe leave, and, a short time later Mr Walker was seen pouring petrol over himself and flicking the lighter on and off.
As help was summoned a “whoosh” sound was heard from the house and Mr Walker staggered into the garden screaming, engulfed in flames.
Neighbours, joined by the emergency services, threw wet clothing and towels on Mr Walker, who suffered 90-per cent burns.
The house, in Walker Drive, was badly damaged in the blaze and remains boarded up, three-and-a-half months after the incident.
Thirty-year-old Mr Walker was taken in a critical condition to Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, where he remains in intensive care in the burns unit, still requiring further surgery, and at constant risk of suffering a fatal infection.
Howe, who was arrested at his home in nearby Cheesmond Avenue later that night, gave various accounts to police and to the court as to why he bought the petrol and the lighter.
His final explanation was that it was for Mr Walker to do odd jobs in neighbouring gardens, including cutting grass using a petrol-driven strimmer.
But he conceded that, knowing Mr Walker’s history, he should not have left it at his house, while he was so drunk.
The jury, reduced to 11 members, returned a unanimous ‘guilty’ verdict after two hours deliberation on the fourth day of the trial today (Thursday).
Mark McKone, prosecuting, defence counsel Mark Styles and Judge Christopher Prince all agreed it was “an unusual case” with little relevant precedent recorded in the guideline law books.
Judge Prince said: “This is a very unusual fact specific case to which I will have to turn my mind at sentence.
“To my mind there’s no question it’s going to be a custodial and reflected in years.”
Remanding Howe in custody until sentence, he told him: “I don’t propose to say anything about what you did today, but you’ve heard my remarks about sentence.
“The sentence you will receive will involve a number of years in custody.”
Thanking the jury Judge Prince told them it was, “an extremely rare allegation”, with “disturbing aspects”.
Following the hearing a brief statement was issued on behalf of Mr Walker’s tearful brother Michael, who attended each day of the trial.
It read: “He’s relieved it’s all over and he’s now going to concentrate on the recovery of his brother.”
Family members are said to have been at Mr Walker’s hospital bedside since the tragedy, in late May.
The officer leading the investigation, Detective Constable Colin Howey, said he has never dealt with such a case in 27 years of policing.
“It’s been a traumatic ordeal for the family and our thoughts have still to go to Stephen, who faces a long road to recovery.”
Det Con Howey also thanked neighbours, plus other residents of Walker Drive and nearby streets on the estate for their assistance, both on the night of the incident and during the subsequent inquiry.
“The whole community came together that evening.
“I can’t fault people in the area and I salute the community spirit they have shown as well as the assistance they have given to the police.”
Asked about the verdict, Det Con Howey said: “It speaks for itself. Someone’s life has been destroyed here because he (Howe) went and got that petrol, that evening.”
Elizabeth Reid, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “The victim in this case was known to be suicidal.
“He had told people earlier that day that he intended to set himself alight and had made threats to commit suicide on many previous occasions.
“Kevin Howe was fully aware of these intentions when he bought the victim both petrol and a lighter, and he knew precisely how they would be used.
“He failed to provide any satisfactory explanation of his actions throughout this case and has today been brought to justice.
“I extend my sympathies to the victim in this case, who remains in hospital, and hope today’s conviction provides some comfort to both him and his family, as well as their friends and neighbours, many of whom witnessed this distressing and upsetting incident.”
Howe, who has no previous convictions, will be sentenced on Friday October 4.
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