October 19, 2007 / 1:15 PM / 12 years ago

Boys jailed for stoning death

LONDON (Reuters) - Five boys, some as young as 12, were given custodial sentences on Friday for stoning to death a pensioner as he played cricket with his son.

Ernest Norton in an undated photo. Five boys, some as young as 12, were given custodial sentences on Friday for stoning to death Norton as he played cricket with his son. REUTERS/Handout

The schoolboys, one of whom was just 10 at the time, had attacked 67-year-old Ernest Norton at Erith Leisure Centre in Kent in February 2006.

The Old Bailey heard that the five belonged to a local gang called “The New Estate” and were part of a larger group of up to 20 who began abusing Norton and his 18-year-old son James.

Norton was verbally abused, spat at and then pelted with a hail of stones and pieces of wood. He died of a heart attack after being struck twice on the head and face with stones, one rock the size of half a brick shattered his cheekbone.

He died in front of his son.

Judge Warwick McKinnon described it as “a vicious, unprovoked attack”.

“Your behaviour was utterly disgraceful and criminally irresponsible. No sentence I can pass can restore the human life so needlessly taken by this mindless display of violence,” he told them.

All the boys, who were found guilty of manslaughter in August, were given two years detention. They are now appealing against their conviction.

The court heard that the incident happened after a posting was put up on an Internet site that there was going to be a fight involving four local gangs in Erith Park in Kent.

James Norton said he and his father had been playing cricket in a tennis court next to the centre when about 15 to 20 youths wearing “hoodies” approached.

“We had done nothing to provoke this. We were keeping ourselves to ourselves,” he told the court.

“There were about five six or seven of them throwing stones. They were also picking up pieces of wood, whatever they could find, and lobbing it over the wire mesh of the tennis courts. They were all just laughing.”

Detective Chief Inspector Clive Heys said the case was a tragedy for Norton’s family and for the boys themselves.

“They will have a stain on their characters for the rest of their life,” he said.

Heys added he hoped it might deter youngsters from anti-social behaviour in the future.

Norton’s wife Linda said in a statement read out to the court: “Ernie’s death has affected our lives in so many ways: we are still trying to be normal and enjoy ourselves again but I don’t think I ever will.”

She said her daughter Gemma, 26, was still receiving counselling due to the trauma of losing her father while her son decided not to go to university to help support the family.

“He was always there for me in every way imaginable. He was a kind hearted man who looked after his friends and family,” her statement added.

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