TWO booze-fuelled killers who beat a neighbour to death met through a support group for families affected by murder and manslaughter.
Douglas Stephen and Christopher Burton, both 29, yesterday admitted their part in the vicious assault on father John Collins in Brockholes on July 28 last year.
The 55-year-old died of massive head injuries after being repeatedly kicked and stamped on as he went to collect his seven-year-old daughter from a friend’s house.
Stephen and Burton then forced another man to drive them away from the scene before being arrested.
The pair admitted manslaughter but have denied murder, claiming they did not intend to cause Mr Collins serious injury.
On the first day of their murder trial at Bradford Crown Court, it was revealed both Stephen and Burton had lost siblings to killers. Their parents had met through the group Support After Murder and Manslaughter.
Prosecutor Tom Bayliss QC said: "In an ironic twist of fate, these two men had become friends because their two mothers were active in a support group for bereaved relatives of murder victims.
"Both men had lost siblings in separate murderous attacks."
He told the jury of nine women and three men that Burton’s brother and Stephen’s sister had been murdered.
Mr Bayliss added: "Both know what it’s like to lose someone through a murderous attack, yet both joined in just such an attack on John Collins."
The court heard the pair lived together a few doors away from Mr Collins on Oakes Avenue.
Burton was ‘hostile’ towards Mr Collins’ family because Burton’s dead partner, Michelle Marshall, had once had a relationship with Mr Collins’ son, Chris.
After her death, Chris Collins had suggested he could have been the father of the son Burton and Ms Marshall had together – a claim disproved by a paternity test.
Mr Bayliss said: "Neither Mr Burton nor Mr Stephen had any reason to quarrel with John Collins. Yet on July 28 they were in the street taunting John Collins, twice their age, in an antagonistic and bullying manner and then, having done that, they both attacked him."
The court heard Burton and Stephen had been drinking heavily on the day of the attack.
They had already threatened one neighbour before Stephen, a Liverpudlian, was heard to say: "Let’s do some serious business, how Scousers do it. Let’s cause some s***,’’ and then, "Come on then, who wants a piece of me?’’
The pair then walked into the garden of another neighbour, Scott Wade, and punched him repeatedly.
After leaving Mr Wade’s property, they saw Mr Collins in the street.
He had been asked by his partner to collect their daughter, Laura, from a nearby friend.
A witness described Burton and Stephen skipping towards him like "a boxer’s entrance to a fight."
Mr Collins ignored Burton when he called him "the gangster of Brockholes."
The pair then attacked him. Mr Bayliss said: "After the initial punch from Mr Burton, Mr Collins stumbled but did not fall to the ground.
"Mr Burton punched him again and this time Mr Collins went to the floor. Mr Stephen walked up to Mr Collins and stamped on his head.
"Mr Stephen was heard to say, ‘God, you bleed easily, don’t you’."
Mr Collins was then kicked and stamped on repeatedly.
After leaving Mr Collins lying unconscious and bleeding in the street, Burton and Stephen returned to Mr Wade’s house and ordered him to drive them to Lawton Street in Primrose Hill, where Stephen’s ex-girlfriend, Aimee Woods, lived.
Fearing for his safety, Mr Wade agreed and was only stopped by police as he returned through Berry Brow.
Several witnesses on Oakes Avenue called 999. Mr Collins initially regained consciousness but told medics he had been injured in a fall.
During the journey to Huddersfield Royal Infirmary his condition deteriorated and, after a brain scan, he was rushed to Leeds General Infirmary’s neurology unit. But doctors were unable to save him and he died the following morning.
Burton and Stephen had been arrested on Lawton Street the previous night after Miss Woods called police after being threatened.
During interview, Burton told police he had "a lot of s***" from Mr Collins’ family but did not admit his part in the attack.
Stephen said he could not remember what had happened because he was so drunk.
Mr Bayliss said it was unclear who had caused the fatal injuries.
But he added: "The prosecution case is that the two defendants are both guilty of murder because the fatal attack upon John Collins was an unlawful joint attack instigated by and then participated in by these two men.
"This was a determined and relentless attack".