Four men involved in a fatal ammonia attack were today (Thursday June 13) found guilty of the murder of victim Andy Foster.

A jury at Newcastle Crown Court returned unanimous guilty verdicts against the quartet involved in either the commission or planning of the attack, at Mr Foster’s home in Wrekenton, Gateshead, late on Sunday August 20, last year.

The 26-year-old asthma sufferer died from the effects of the corrosive chemical attack in hospital the following day.

All four defendants, John Wandless, Kenneth Fawcett, Youssef Wynne and Josh Hawthorn, were also found guilty of the robbery of Mr Foster, as cannabis edibles were stolen from his home by the perpetrators in the incident.

(Image: Northumbria Police)

 (Image: Northumbria Police)

Apart from the murder counts, the jury also found three of the defendants guilty of charges stemming from other similar, but non-fatal attacks, committed in the South Tyneside area, in the 11 days preceding the fatal incident involving Mr Foster.

The prosecution described all four as “taxing” attacks, said to have taken place at the whim of drug dealer Wynne, to deter rival dealers in the area.

He was said to have recruited Fawcett as his “enforcer” to carry out the attacks, and he, in turn, persuaded side-kick Wandless to join him in the final three cases, in one of which a woman lost an eye from the effects of the ammonia flung in her direction.

The two other victims, both male, suffered less serious injuries from which they recovered.

Hawthorn was only said to have taken part in the planning of the final, ultimately fatal attack.

(Image: The Northern Echo)

(Image: The Northern Echo)

All four accused admitted various involvement in drug dealing or taking but denied having anything to do with the killing of Mr Foster and the other attacks.

They all chose not to give evidence from the witness stand during the trial, as the court was told was their legal right.

(Image: Northumbria Police)

Following the conclusion of the closing speeches and the judge, Mr Justice Ian Dove’s summing up of evidence, the jury retired to begin its deliberations, on Tuesday (June 11).

Wynne, 39, of Wuppertal Court, Jarrow, denied charges of murder, robbery, assault causing actual bodily harm, inflicting grievous bodily harm, and two counts of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm.

Fawcett, 33, of Balkwell Avenue, North Shields, denied murder, robbery, inflicting grievous bodily harm and two counts of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm, with intent.

Wandless, 33, of no fixed abode, but formerly of North Shields, denied murder, robbery, inflicting grievous bodily harm and attempting to cause grievous bodily harm.

He did, however, admit handling a stolen Volkswagen Golf car, said to have been used to transport the duo to three of the attack scenes, and arson of the vehicle following the alleged murder.

Hawthorn, 22, of Ashfield, Jarrow, denied murder and robbery.

Following their guilty verdicts to all counts, after the month-long trial, shortly after the start of today's (Thursday June 13) afternoon session, the judge thanked the panel for their efforts, but told them he would not be passing sentence today.

“I do not propose to proceed to sentence in the light of your verdicts.

“It’s sensible for all involved in the sentencing process to take stock and return to court in due course.”

He and the trial counsel then set about fixing a date suitable to all for the sentencing hearing.

A date of Friday July 26 was said to be mutually convenient for the sentencing of the killers.

Speaking after the hearing, the senior investigating officer in the case, Detective Inspector Tam Fowler, said: “First and foremost, our thoughts firmly remain with Andrew’s loved ones following his tragic death, as well as with the other victims involved in this reckless spate of attacks. 

“This was a shocking and orchestrated crime spree which saw Fawcett, Hawthorn, Wandless and Wynne act together to intimidate and cause serious harm to their intended targets. 

“Not only did their cowardly and vile actions lead to a young man tragically losing his life, but they also left a woman with life-changing injuries.

“The four offenders involved have continued to deny the charges put to them, without showing a hint of remorse for their victims throughout the investigation. 

“They have continued to demonstrate their ignorance to the destruction they have caused, even trying to cover their tracks by setting fire to the vehicle used after learning of Andrew’s death. 

“This meant that Andrew’s family – and the survivors from the other attacks – had to suffer through a lengthy court process and subsequent trial."

Det Insp Fowler added: “Of course, no result will ever take away the pain they have caused, but I hope these guilty verdict today gives some comfort knowing that those behind the attacks have been brought to justice and will be made to pay for their horrific actions. 

“I want to thank the team of officers and staff who have worked tirelessly on this case to ensure Fawcett, Hawthorn, Wandless and Wynne were put before the courts for their crimes.

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“I want to make it clear that there are no winners where serious violence is concerned – and this case demonstrates the sheer harm that using corrosive substances as a weapon can have on others. 

“You don’t have to deliver the fatal blow to contribute to someone’s death – and using a household item such as ammonia can still very much amount to murder. 

“As a Force we are fully committed to tackling violent crime."

Following the conclusion of the trial, Andrew Foster’s mam Karen paid a heartfelt tribute to her son. 

She said: “We as a family will never get over Andrew’s death. 

“To those who didn’t know Andrew, he was a practical joker, always laughing and had a heart of gold.  

“I spoke to him every day, usually on video calls when he would pull funny faces just to make me laugh. He cared for his family and friends so much. 

“Andrew was our only son, as well as a loving and supportive partner, grandson, nephew and cousin.  

“He was particularly close to his Grandad who was very special to him.   

“Andrew was the life and soul of the party, and he loved to make people laugh. 

“Everyone around him was always guaranteed to have a big smile on their face. He was a big softy and loved life so much.  

“He was such a happy, loving young lad who lit up the room with his energy, and always had everyone laughing. 

“Life will simply never be the same without him here. 

“It breaks my heart that I will never get to hear him say, ‘I love you Mam’ again.  

“I am hugely grateful for the support and kind wishes since Andrew passed away. It is heartening to know that he has touched so many lives and his memory will live on. 

“I’d also like to thank the investigation team from Northumbria Police who have done a fantastic job to get justice for Andrew.”