The mother of one of 10 boys sentenced for the joint-enterprise murder of Jack Woodley has said she is “devastated” as her son had “not murdered anyone”.
A judge handed out 10 life sentences with minimum terms ranging from eight to 17 years at Newcastle crown court on Friday morning for the murder of 18-year-old Woodley, who died a day after an unprovoked attack by the group of boys in Houghton-le-Spring, Sunderland, last October.
One of the killers, none of whom can be named because they were aged between 14 and 17 at the time of the murder, stabbed Woodley in the fray with a “Rambo-style” knife, while others punched and kicked him after chasing him down an alley.
But the parents of two of the boys said their children were not murderers and should not have been convicted.
The youngest boy, who had just turned 14 at the time of the murder, was diagnosed with a learning disability during the trial and was described as having a mental age of 10. He was sentenced to a minimum of eight years.
His mother said her son understands that he should face punishment for trying to kick Woodley, which he admitted to in a police interview, but “he doesn’t understand why he’s getting murder”.
“That’s the hardest bit, I’ve been trying to explain to him it’s joint enterprise.”
Joint enterprise is used to convict those who took part in planning or helped to carrying out a crime such as murder, predominantly in cases of gang warfare.
The mother of another boy, who was filmed going in for a kick on Woodley but had not been with the group until the moments before the murder and left before the end of the violence, said it was a “massive shock”.
The boy, now 16, broke down in tears as his sentence of 11 years was passed, which took into account the mandatory minimum of 12 years for a child who has committed murder.
In the judge’s words there was “very little evidence of how he came to be at the scene”, as there were no witnesses to his involvement and, unlike the other boys, the judge said he had not gone to the fair expecting to use violence.
The woman said: “He should have never been found guilty if he hasn’t murdered anyone. He had no involvement, there were no witnesses saying that.
“The most shocking part is that he shouldn’t be found guilty of a crime he hasn’t done.”
The five-week murder trial heard how Woodley was set upon at Houghton Feast on 16 October by one of the boys and was chased by the group, who caught up with him outside the Britannia Inn and threw punches, kicks and stamped on him, eventually stabbing him twice.
Though the fatal stab wound was delivered by a 15-year-old who earlier that day had boasted that he planned to stab someone, the other nine boys were convicted under controversial joint enterprise laws, allowing them to be jointly convicted of murder even if they did not deliver the blow that killed him.
On Monday Judge Jameson heard from Woodley’s parents who described how they were “struggling to cope” with the death of their son.
In her victim impact statement, his mother, Zoe McGill, told the court: “[We] don’t think we can ever attend another fair as it will bring back such painful memories. This has ruined our families’ lives and life will never be the same again without Jack.”
The legal representatives of nine of the 10 teenagers gave notice of plans to appeal.