Two teenagers have been convicted over the death of a father from Widnes.
The pair, both aged 16, were found guilty of manslaughter today (Thursday 22nd December) following a trial that spanned almost 3 weeks at Chester Crown Court.
The boys, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were remanded into custody and are due to be sentenced on 20th January 2017.
The victim - Lee Briggs (pictured) - died on 16 May 2016 following an incident at St Marie’s Park in the town. The father-of-two died from a single stab wound to the chest, which pierced his heart.
The two defendants, who are from Liverpool, had travelled over the border to Widnes that day to deal drugs.
Lee, who was a regular drug user himself, had been in the park that day. Also in the park were a woman and two men who were waiting for the drug dealers to arrive.
During the afternoon, Lee came out of the bushes and asked one of the men for a cigarette. The two teenagers then arrived and the woman followed one of them into the bushes. Lee also then went back into the bushes followed by the other teen.
The two men remained outside of the bushes, one of them walked off when he realised something was happening.
The other heard shouting inside the bushes and Lee staggered out and collapsed on the floor next to the basketball court. He walked towards Lee with the woman and could see that he was badly injured.
They both went to get help at a nearby house - and an ambulance was called. Other local residents also tried to help Lee. Paramedics and police arrived swiftly at the scene and provided CPR.
Lee was taken to Whiston Hospital but, despite the best efforts of all involved, he sadly died.
An investigation was launched and the two teens were quickly identified as suspects after being caught on CCTV. The pair were arrested shortly after and subsequently charged in connection with Lee’s death.
Detectives from the Force's Major Investigation Team have 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.
During the investigation it became apparent that the woman, who had been in the bushes at the time of the incident, had witnessed part of what had happened.
She was identified and spoken to by police. She admitted being there and seeing Lee with a knife and said that he threatened one of the teenagers in a bid to steal their money and drugs.
Evidence was heard in court that the teenager, who was stood next to the woman, had picked up a machete, which was nearby. As he did so, the other stabbed Lee once to the chest with a knife.
The two defendants fled the scene following the incident and tried to catch a taxi back to Liverpool. They went to a nearby industrial estate and asked for help in getting a lift as they were unsure of their location. They eventually managed to catch a cab back to the city.
Following their arrest one of teens admitted stabbing the victim – but claimed it had been in self-defence as he thought he was going to be harmed himself and that he had not intended to kill him.
The knife used to stab Lee was never recovered – the teenager claimed that he had discarded it following the incident. A knife was recovered next to the body of the victim - a DNA match linked this directly to Lee.
Detective Inspector Steve Jones, who was in charge of the investigation, said: “This has been a complex investigation with many challenges - including the ages of those involved and the circumstances surrounding the death. This case revolves around illegal drugs and those who use and sell them.
“Lee was a drug user who had struggled with his addiction - his life was cut short that afternoon. The actions of the two teenage boys have devastated not only Lee’s family but also their own. They are now paying the price by facing prison sentences. What happened that day will stay with them for the rest of their lives and I hope that their time in prison will allow them to face up to the consequences of their actions.
“This outcome sends a strong message that young drug dealers cannot simply arm themselves and escape the consequences of their violent actions in support of criminal activity by claiming self-defence.
“I would like to thank all those involved in the case – especially the witnesses who provided statements and subsequently gave evidence in court. This was not an easy task for them.
“Lee was well-known in Widnes and the impact of his death should not be underestimated. All those who knew and loved Lee have struggled to come to terms with what happened that day. Lee's family have suffered greatly and I hope that the conclusion of this case will help them to move on with their lives.”
Both teenagers have already pleaded guilty to being concerned in the supply of Class A drugs (Cocaine and Heroin) on the day of the incident. They are due to be sentenced in relation to this on 20th January 2017.
Chief Inspector Richard Rees, who is in charge of policing in Widnes, said: “Lee’s death had a big impact on the local community. Officers from the local policing unit worked hard following the incident to provide vital reassurance and support to local people. Many residents living nearby tried to help Lee that day after he collapsed in the park and I would like to thank them for their efforts.
“Illegal drugs can have a big impact on an area and those living it. We are working hard to address the issue and ensure that those who are involved in this sort of behaviour are identified, dealt with appropriately and offered the necessary help and support.”
Crown Advocate, Robert Jones, of Mersey-Cheshire Crown Prosecution Service said: “These boys were just children but were already heavily involved in the violent and dangerous world of drug dealing. The Crown Prosecution Service prosecuted this case as joint enterprise. We argued that the two boys had acted together, with the same aim and had access to hidden weapons near to where they were dealing drugs in case they were robbed.
“It’s clear Mr Briggs had threatened them and demanded money and drugs but the response cannot be described as ‘reasonable self defence’. Mr Briggs was killed by a single stab wound to the heart – a blow clearly intended to do harm. The jury has found them both guilty of manslaughter and these two young boys now face substantial jail terms.
“They were dealing in powerful, addictive drugs and killed a man to protect their ill-gotten gains. Another example of the dangers of this evil trade. Our thoughts remain with the family of Mr Briggs.”