Two teenagers have been handed custodial sentences for killing an 18-year-old man outside a club in Runcorn following a feud over a girl.
Joe Ward, who turned 18 on Saturday 30 March, and a 15-year-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, pleaded not guilty to the murder of fellow Runcorn resident Eddie O’Rourke.
Ward was convicted of the offence on Friday 5 April following a five-week trial at Liverpool Crown Court.
The 15-year-old boy was found guilty of manslaughter.
Ward, of Lockfield, was also convicted of possessing an offensive weapon in a public place, an offence that the 15-year-old had previously pleaded guilty to.
The teenagers returned to Liverpool Crown Court for sentencing today, Friday 24 May.
Ward was given a custodial sentence and will serve a minimum of 16 years.
The 15-year-old boy was handed a seven-year custodial sentence to be served at a young offenders’ institute.
Sentencing the pair, Lord Justice King told them: “Knife crime destroys lives, including those who carry the knives.
“Had a knife never been brought to the party, Eddie O’Rourke would still be alive and neither of you would be facing the sentences you are.
“If I had the means I would educate all children to have nothing to do with knives.”
Addressing Ward, he added: “My firm conclusion is that you did not act with any degree of self-defence. You intentionally went outside to have a fight of some sort.
“You are an intelligent young man with a previously good character who is described as being extremely remorseful, which I accept.
“The real tragedy is what happened to Eddie O’Rourke – and there is no justification for that. No words of mine can convey the effect that has had on his family.”
Addressing the 15-year-old boy, Lord Justice King said: “I accept that you are remorseful and have no previous convictions, and it is clear that you are an intelligent boy who should have never got himself into this position.
“The fearsome knife you were carrying has brought devastation to the family of Eddie O’Rourke.
“If you were an adult your sentence would have been much longer. It is only your age that has prevented me from passing such a sentence.”
The court heard that Eddie’s death was the tragic result of a long-running feud with Ward.
This centred around a girl and the hostility between the pair escalated when they saw each other at a birthday party being held at the Royal British Legion on Castle Road in Halton Village on the night of Friday 7 September.
Eddie entered the club shortly before 8.25pm. The offenders had arrived just minutes earlier.
Upon seeing then 17-year-old boy Ward, Eddie gestured to the teenager to follow him outside.
He did so but CCTV footage shows that he ran straight back inside the club and was handed a large knife with a 12” blade by the 15-year-old in the doorway.
The offenders then went outside together, at which point Ward stabbed Eddie with the knife in the abdomen.
The single stab wound severed a main artery. Eddie was taken to hospital via ambulance but doctors were unable to save him and he died that night.
Knife used to kill Eddie O'Rourke
The offenders fled the scene after Eddie was stabbed but were arrested the next day.
The court heard that Ward had stabbed Eddie with a knife before, in the arm in August 2017, and that prior to his death the offender had sent messages to others in which he made threats to ‘cut’ him.
The jury was also told that on the week of the stabbing the 15-year-old bought a machete on the internet. A different bladed weapon was used to kill Eddie.
The 15-year-old admitted in court to habitually carrying a knife whenever he went out.
Ward claimed that he acted in self-defence in fatally stabbing Eddie while the 15-year-old pleaded not guilty to murder on the grounds of a lack of intent.
The 15-year-old argued that he did not know the knife would be used to harm someone when he handed it over to his older friend.
After hearing all of the evidence, the jury found Ward guilty of murder and the 15-year-old guilty of manslaughter.
Detective Inspector Adam Waller, who led Cheshire Constabulary’s investigation into the fatal stabbing, said: “A team of officers from the force’s Major Investigation Team have worked tirelessly and spent months piecing together the case.
“This included gathering vital evidence, speaking to numerous witnesses, viewing hours of CCTV footage and carrying out forensic enquiries.
“As a result of this work and the testimonies of witnesses, 18-year-old Joe Ward has been convicted of murder and a 15-year-old boy has been convicted of manslaughter.
“I would like to thank the members of the community who provided evidence to the police and acted as witnesses in the investigation. They played a vital role in securing the convictions and I cannot commend them enough for the bravery they have shown in testifying in such a high profile case for the Runcorn community.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the officers and staff involved in the investigation.
“Our thoughts remain with Eddie’s family and friends as they continue to come to terms with their devastating loss.
“While his loved ones have been left heartbroken by his death, the Runcorn community as a whole have been left deeply shocked by what happened outside the Royal British Legion that night.
“For an 18-year-old man to have his life ended by the senseless actions of who were then 17 and 15-year-old boys is tragic in every sense of the word.
“It is also the ultimate example of why people shouldn’t carry knives.
“Not only has a young man died but three families have been ruined as a result of a knife being carried and used that night.”
Following the sentencing, DI Waller added: “Having been found guilty by a jury of killing Eddie, the two teenagers have now been handed significant custodial sentences.
“I hope that the verdicts and subsequent sentences handed out by Liverpool Crown Court give Eddie’s family some closure and enable them to begin to move forward with their lives.
“I also hope that the case deters others from carrying knives.”
Following the verdicts, Eddie’s mum Jayne White said: “There will never be words to describe the impact Eddie’s death has had on my family. I am a mother without her son and his three sisters and two brothers are without their older brother.
“The best thing in our lives has been taken away from us and my family have been left in turmoil.
“Eddie was not only my son but my best friend. Life without him starts now with the ultimate realisation that he will never walk through the door of his loving home again.
“The police investigation into Eddie’s death has been brilliant. They worked so hard in preparation for the court case and have been there for me with anything I have needed.
“I would especially like to thank Nigel Power QC and DI Adam Waller and all of his team, particularly Detective Constable Amanda Antrobus, our Family Liaison Officer.
“We need to get knives off our streets. My kids and I intend to do whatever we can to support the police and our community in this regard. We need a combined approach against the impact of knife crime and we all need to take responsibility.
“We as parents need to make sure that we know what our children are doing and what they are carrying around with them.
“There is never a positive outcome to knife crime, which can have life changing consequences for everyone involved.”
Chief Inspector Sarah Heath, of Runcorn Local Policing Unit (LPU), added: “We are committed to doing all that we can to tackle knife crime in the town.
“When people carry knives it is only a matter of time before someone suffers life changing injuries or is killed, and the simple fact is if you carry a knife then you are much more likely to be involved in a knife crime.
“Carrying a knife doesn’t make you safer and the consequences can be devastating for all those involved.
“Knife crime is sadly a growing epidemic nationwide. It is an issue that we take extremely seriously and Runcorn LPU will ensure that anyone found to be carrying a knife or committing a knife related offence in the town is brought to justice.
“But the police cannot beat knife crime without the help of the local community and we urge anyone with information about people who may be carrying knives to come forward and speak to us or pass this information onto Crimestoppers.”
To report any type of knife crime call Cheshire Constabulary on 101, or 999 in an emergency.
Information can also be passed to the force online via https://cheshire.police.uk/contact/general-enquiries.
Anyone who knows someone that carries a knife can report it to Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.