The murder of 49-year-old Garry Newlove on 10 August 2007 in Warrington, Cheshire shocked people across the nation. He was a loving and hard-working man spending the evening at home with his family as thousands of us do each and every day. A gang of youths began vandalizing his wife’s car out the front of his house. Garry Newlove went out his front door barefoot and told the group to stop and move on. Their appalling response was a fierce punch to his head followed by kick after kick while he was on the ground utterly unable to defend himself.
His wife and three teenage daughters were inside the house and witnessed the full attack, only able to frantically call emergency services begging for help. By the time the group of teenagers finished and walked away, Garry Newlove was lying unconscious in the road. He had been kicked with such force there was a visible shoe imprint on his head and one of the offender’s trainers was wedged underneath his body. His injuries were so severe he was put on life support soon after arriving at the hospital. After two agonizing days, Garry Newlove lost his fight for life.
A sales manager in a local plastics company, he had married Helen Marston in 1986, before they went on to have three much-loved daughters. The couple worked hard to afford their own home in a friendly and quiet street in Padgate in Warrington, a blue-collar town that lies between the cities of Liverpool and Manchester. Garry Newlove represented the everyday man; a law-abiding individual who cared for his family and friends and lived a good honest life. No one could believe that catching these boys in an act of vandalism could result in his horrific death.
“They were the actions of the courageous and devoted family man, who paid with his life.”
The area of Padgate had been struggling in recent years with local youth. Many evenings and weekends, local residents were faced with noise, drinking, vandalism, and anti-social behaviour from groups of teens who seemed to have little respect for others outside their own peer group. One of the hotspots where the teens liked to hang out was at the end of the street in which Garry Newlove and his family lived.
Those responsible for his death had been drinking heavily all evening. All were underage and had launched into a violent attack when challenged. They showed no remorse for their actions and no empathy for the fellow human being they had just brutally assaulted. They laughed and bragged to their friends what they had done. In their minds, they had just beaten a man unconscious and that was something to be proud of.
Within hours of the attack, the police were rounding up the youths known to frequent that area to check their whereabouts. The more they spoke with local teens, the more they were told the same three names. Using witness statements and the group’s inability to confirm they were not in the vicinity, police quickly identified five teenagers who became prime suspects in the assault on Garry Newlove. One of the teens was missing a trainer when police spoke with him.
At Chester Crown Court on 14 November 2007, all five boys went on trial for murder. The prosecution had a strong case of witness statements, CCTV footage, and forensic evidence. Throughout the trial, 19-year-old Adam Swellings, 17-year-old Stephen Sorton, and 16-year-old Jordon Cunliffe laughed and joked with each other, showing no respect for the Newlove family or the court system. The older Swellings was thought to be the ringleader of the gang. After smoking cannabis and drinking up to four litres of cider, with the others shouting encouragement he threw the first punch which knocked Newlove to the ground. Sorton, believed to have consumed multiple bottles of beer and a three litre bottle of cider that evening then began to kick Newlove, continuing the onslaught of blows that contributed to his death.
On 16 January 2008, Swellings, Sorton, and Cunliffe were found guilty of murder. The two other teens aged 15 and 17 were not named for legal reasons and were cleared of both murder and manslaughter. At sentencing one month later the judge told them:
“You were three of a gang who attacked Garry Newlove only because he had the courage to remonstrate with you. For you all, drunken aggression was part of the night’s entertainment.”
On 11 February 2008, all three were given life sentences behind bars, each to serve a minimum of 17, 15, and 12 years. The public had followed this trial closely and many felt for the scale of their crime and the level of violence displayed, these sentences were lenient. Teenagers at time of sentencing, they would be released in their late 20s and early 30s and still very much able to live a full life.
Since their convictions, all three have filed appeals trying to get their sentences overturned or reduced. In November 2008, Swellings appeal was rejected and Sorton won a two-year reduction in his sentence. Jordon Cunliffe, who was convicted under the law of joint enterprise, stated in his appeal that he was present during the assault on Garry Newlove but did not take part.
As it cannot be conclusively proved which members of the group inflicted the fatal blow to Garry Newlove, Cunliffe was convicted of murder the same as the others. Jordon Cunliffe has an eye condition called ‘keratoconus’ which means he cannot see clearly, and although can make out shapes, he cannot see any detail. Clinical psychologist Dr. Roger Davis has said, “He would not be able to predict what people were able to do. There’s absolutely no way that he could follow the movements of other individuals. He couldn’t track their movements. I doubt that he understood anything of what was going on.” In July 2010 his appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal and he continues to challenge his conviction.
The violent senseless murder of Garry Newlove and the heart-breaking struggle for his wife and daughters in the aftermath resonated across the country. Helen Newlove has campaigned heavily for more support for the victims of crime and harsher sentences for the offenders of these kinds of crimes. She has been keen to work with communities, helping to build safer environments with more effective methods to deter alcohol-fueled violence, especially among teenagers.
Made a Baroness and the Victim’s Commissioner for England and Wales in the years after her husband’s murder, she has been a strong voice for positive change. “Victims are still not at the centre of the criminal justice system and there is still a long way to go,” she has said. “If I can help these families, then I will.”