Man beaten to death by gang after police ignore six 999 calls

A court heard how a father-of-two was savagely beaten to death by a gang of youths, after police told him they were too busy to respond to his calls.

Police had been called six times between 1.11am and 1.30am on 26 July 2008, after a gang of drunken young men had gathered outside the home of James Straiton, threatening to smash their way into his flat in Northwich, Cheshire.

The court heard how the group of men had been staggering on their way home from a birthday party at which they had all drunk several pints of beer. The gang had been making a lot of noise in the early hours of the morning and Mr Straiton had opened the window to his flat to ask them to be quiet. This annoyed the men who then began banging on his window and hurling abuse at him. Mr Straiton and some of his neighbours then called 999 several times appealing for police help. Operators told the anxious callers they would try and send a patrol as soon as possible but advised them to ring their local police station as they had already received a high number of emergency calls that night.

After police failed to show at his home, 59-year-old James then armed himself with a hammer and went outside to try and chase away the thugs. But when he got outside, he was punched to the ground, and two men jumped and stamped on his head. He suffered a brain haemorrhage, damaged vertebrate, fractures to his face and arm and several broken ribs. When emergency services did eventually arrive he was taken to the University Hospital of North Staffordshire, where he underwent emergency surgery to remove a blood clot on his brain. He sadly died two weeks later of his injuries.

Two young men were today found guilty of his murder, unanimously by a jury after a five-week trial at Chester Crown Court, Joshua Spruce and Nigel Goolding, both 20 years old from Northwich. A third man was acquitted.

Three neighbours had called the emergency services describing how they heard shouting, glass smashing and how they saw a group of men had climbed over a fence into the apartment block. Steven Moores, who had been asleep, told the jury how he had been woken by the disturbance and had seen Spruce and Blower banging on Mr Straiton’s window. He said: “James was opening his window every now and again to tell them to clear off. I was shocked by what was going on. I could hear shouting and I heard what I thought was a fight going on. I could hear thuds and bangs that sounded like punches. I went out to see what had happened and James was lying down on the grass. There was blood everywhere around him.”

Another witness to the murder was a 16-year-old girl. She told the court: “Josh Spruce rugby tackled him and Nigel Goolding came over. The man was on the floor and they were both kicking him. He had blood coming form his face and there was blood on the pavement as well. He was lying on the floor snoring.”

A final call had been made to emergency services saying a man had been attacked and he was lying on the floor. Police and paramedics arrived at the scene shortly after.

A report into the response of the police was also passed to the court. Judge Evans said: “The public will know that the police were very concerned about the response that was made to those calls. There has been a high-level investigation into their responses. It is apparent that there was an extraordinarily high degree of police commitment at the time which was responsible for this matter.”

Cheshire Police force’s Superintendent Graham Sims said: “At the time of this tragic incident we were dealing with 21 different incidents, more than twice the average we normally get at that time on a Saturday night. Our operator logged every call and told the caller officers would get there as quickly as they could.”

In a statement by Mr Straiton’s family they said: “It is a sad indictment of the society we now live in whereby young men seem to think that it is perfectly acceptable to behave in this way after going for a night out, drinking too much, sometimes taking drugs, and ending the evening by beating someone unrecognisable.”

Judge Roderick Evans told Spruce and Goolding: “The inevitable sentence is one of life.” The two men wept as they heard the guilty verdict.

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