Jockey gets life sentence for pub garden murder
AN Irish jump jockey was jailed for life yesterday for beating and throttling a former Newcastle United football trialist to death.
Christopher Martin McGrath (23) was high on ecstasy and alcohol when he smashed Gary Walton in the face with a brick then choked him, Teesside crown court was told.
McGrath, known to friends as Christy, was a jockey for Durham-based trainer Norman Mason and at the time of the murder, on July 17 last year, lived at Mason's stables at Brancepeth Manor Farm, Brancepeth village, Co Durham.
The court heard that McGrath, formerly of Co Tipperary, was drinking after hours in a pub in Coundon, Co Durham shortly before the attack.
After the pub closed at 1.30am McGrath and Mr Walton (37) had a fight in the pub garden, during which McGrath knocked his opponent to the ground.
The jockey then picked up part of a brick and hit Mr Walton in the face before throttling him and leaving him for dead.
The court heard tape recordings of McGrath's calls to friends begging them to protect him from police after he realised he seriously injured the victim.
He made one distressed plea to a friend saying he was going back to the garden to make sure Mr Walton was dead, adding:
"Davey, I'm begging ye, I'm begging ye, with all my life. Please pick me up."
In another message to the same friend he said: "If you don't pick me up man, I'm gone. I'm gone for life. I'm leaving a man for dead. I'm covered in blood."
McGrath pleaded not guilty to murder in October last year but changed his plea to guilty yesterday.
Prosecutor Paul Batty said father-of-two Mr Walton, the village window-cleaner, was a "local character". Mr Walton, he said had once been on Newcastle United's books, and: "No-one had a bad word to say about him.
"The manner of his death was by any standards a particularly brutal one. He was attacked with a half-brick and his face so shattered as to be unrecognisable."
Mr Walton's body was found behind the pub only yards from his home.
McGrath took ecstasy twice that night and drank a "substantial" amount of alcohol, said the prosecutor.
Aidan Marron, defending, said Mr Walton baited McGrath, making references to the IRA and "the Irish not being welcome here".
Counsel added that McGrath "may have acted wantonly and violently but he's not a sadistic young man, he's a pleasant young man who made this dreadful mistake and lost control of himself."
Jailing McGrath, Mrs Justice Anne Rafferty said: "Quite why you turned from a decent and well-rounded individual into the madman you must have resembled is a mystery."