Friday 2 December 2016

Teen girls who subjected victim to 'gratuitous degradation' get minimum 15 years

Dave Higgens

Published 07/04/2016 | 19:32

Undated handout file photo issued by Cleveland Police of Angela Wrightson, taken some years before her death. Cleveland Police/PA Wire
Undated handout file photo issued by Cleveland Police of Angela Wrightson, taken some years before her death. Cleveland Police/PA Wire

Two teenage girls subjected a 39-year-old woman to "gratuitous degradation" as they battered her to death in her home, according to a judge who said they must be locked up for a minimum of 15 years.

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The pair were 13 and 14 when they murdered Angela Wrightson in the lounge of her home in Hartlepool, County Durham, using weapons including a shovel, a TV, a coffee table and a stick studded with screws during a five-hour long ordeal.

A judge at Leeds Crown Court recounted how Miss Wrightson suffered an "absolute minimum of 70 separate slash injuries and 54 separate blunt-force injuries - 71 were to the head and face, 31 were to the body, 22 were deflection injuries to the back of her hands, wrists and arms as she tried to ward off the blows".

Mr Justice Globe said it was a "cowardly attack" and that Miss Wrightson's defensive injuries backed up one of the girls' claims to friends that their victim was pleading with them to stop.

The judge outlined how "in addition to punching, kicking and stamping", Miss Wrightson suffered "an absolute minimum of 27 blows" with 14 different items.

But he refused to allow the girls, now both 15, to be named.

Handout file photo from Cleveland Police of a photograph taken by one of two girls who are accused of murder when they were getting a lift in the back of a police van only hours after the alleged murder of Angela Wrightson. Cleveland Police/PA Wire
Handout file photo from Cleveland Police of a photograph taken by one of two girls who are accused of murder when they were getting a lift in the back of a police van only hours after the alleged murder of Angela Wrightson. Cleveland Police/PA Wire

Dismissing an application by media organisations to lift an order banning their identification, he pointed to multiple suicide attempts by the older girl.

He said some of these incidents happened in the Crown Court building during the trial, which finished earlier this week when both girls were found guilty of murder.

The judge praised a member of the court staff who saved the girl's life after one incident.

The teenagers showed no obvious emotion when the judge passed sentence, although one wiped away the occasional tear during the two-hour long hearing. After they were taken from the court, a loud wail could be heard from the cell area.

The judge told them: "It was an attack that included gratuitous degradation."

He said: "She (Miss Wrightson) undoubtedly suffered considerably, both mentally and physically, before she ultimately lost consciousness and died."

The judge went through how Miss Wrightson, who was 5ft 4in and weighed six-and-a-half stone, was found dead in her blood-spattered living room in December 2014 after the five-hour long ordeal.

While at the house, the younger girl made a phone call over Facebook to a friend, who heard her say: "Go on (older girl). Smash her head in. Bray her. F****** kill her," as another laughed in the background.

A selfie posted to social media site Snapchat showed the defendants smiling with Miss Wrightson pictured in the background shortly before her death, with further selfies showing the girls drinking cider from a bottle.

After the attack, the girl rang the police to take them home and they took a picture in the police vehicle which was posted to Snapchat with the message: "Me and (older girl) in the back, on the bizzie van again."

The trial heard that the girls had visited Miss Wrightson, an alcoholic known as "Alco Ange", on a number of occasions as she would buy them alcohol and cigarettes.

On the evening of the murder, they let themselves into her home and asked Miss Wrightson to go to the shop for them.

The judge told them: "It was in her own living room. She kindly invited you in. She kindly went out to buy you what you wanted. She kindly let you stay.

"You then abused her hospitality and attacked her again and again in the very place where a person is supposed to feel safe."

The judge read a victim impact statement from Miss Wrightson's mother, Maureen.

The judge said: "She describes the horror of seeing Angie's battered body in the mortuary. She does not think she will ever be able to blink those images away.

"Having seen photographs of what Angie looked like at that time, I readily understand why she is of that view.

"She cannot understand how you could have been as violent as you were.

"She is not alone in that view.

"She had been disgusted by the laughing and giggling and sharing of photographs during the time of and immediately after the attack."

The judge told the girls they would have been facing much longer sentences if they were adults.

He said he was effectively giving them a mandatory life sentence but told them that, because of their ages, this was referred to as "detention at Her Majesty's pleasure".

The teenagers sat through the two-hour hearing surrounded by carers and intermediaries.

The Teeswide Safeguarding Adults Board and Hartlepool Safeguarding Children Board have said the three independent reviews into the circumstances of Miss Wrightson's murder will be made public.

A Safeguarding Adult Review is being undertaken by the Teeswide Safeguarding Adults Board regarding Angela Wrightson and Serious Case Reviews are being undertaken by the Hartlepool Safeguarding Children Board regarding the two teenagers.

Deborah Jeremiah will lead the Safeguarding Adult Review and Jane Wiffin will lead the Serious Case Reviews into the girls, the boards have said.

A spokesman said: "They are, however, working together to undertake the three reviews to make sure that the maximum amount of learning is realised."

He said all the reports will be made public.

Dave Pickard, independent chair of the Hartlepool Safeguarding Children Board, said: "Events like this are extremely rare and we owe it to Angela to learn everything we can and, where necessary, share those lessons nationally."

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