Murder accused heard ‘laughing’ after battering church organist to death

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Two men who battered a church organist to death as he made his way to midnight mass in Sheffield on Christmas Eve were heard laughing after the attack, a court heard.

Alan Greaves, aged 68, was set upon as he walked to St Saviour’s Church in High Green for the annual midnight mass service on December 24.

He died in hospital three days later after suffering ‘grave and catastrophic’ head injuries, Sheffield Crown Court heard.

Opening the prosecution case Robert Smith QC told the jury Mr Greaves was attacked by Jonathan Bowling and Ashley Foster, both 22, as he made the short journey from his home to the church to play the organ - something he’d done every Christmas Eve for the last 40 years.

Mr Smith said Bowling and Foster were out looking for someone to attack and used a pick axe handle and another sharp weapon, possibly a hammer, to batter Mr Greaves.

They were spotted by two men shortly after the attack, who heard them laughing in nearby Mortomley Park.

Mr Smith said: “Christmas Eve 2012 began for Alan Greaves in the way it had always done.

“He left his home carrying his briefcase and leaving his wife, children and friends there. He was never to return home.

“In the course of his journey he was set upon and savagely beaten to the head with such force he suffered unsurvivable head injuries.”

Foster, of Carwood Way, Pitsmoor, Sheffield, denies one count of murder.

As the trial began, he sat in the dock with a security guard and an intermediary - appointed to explain what was going on because of his ‘intellectual difficulties’.

He wore a blue jumper over an open-neck blue shirt and black trousers.

The jury was told that Bowling, of Wesley Road, High Green, had already admitted murdering Mr Greaves.

Mr Smith said nothing was stolen from Mr Greaves during the attack and robbery did not appear to be the motive.

He said Bowling and Foster were good friends and ‘virtually brothers’ because Foster’s mother was the ex-partner of Bowling’s father.

On the afternoon of Christmas Eve they had been at a house in High Green, drinking lager and Bacardi and Coke, when an argument broke out between Bowling and Foster’s girlfriend Natalie Ever’s mother about Bowling flirting with Natalie, the jury heard.

Bowling and Foster left the house at around 10pm and returned at around midnight ‘acting normally’, the court heard.

The jury was told Mr Greaves suffered extensive injuries.

A post-mortem examination carried out by a Home Office pathologist found he had been struck at least three times.

The pathologist said the injuries had been inflicted with such force, they were similar to those he’d expect to see in a fall from a height or a road traffic collision.

Mr Smith said most of the bones in Mr Greaves’ face were broken and the right side of Mr Greaves’ skull was hit so hard that the bones splintered into a number of pieces.

One of the fragments was found on the pavement at the scene of the attack.

Mr Smith said a few days after the murder Foster approached a police officer guarding the crime scene and told him the attack was ‘a disgrace’.

“He told the officer he hoped that whoever had committed the attack got ‘hammered’ in prison for beating up an old man,” Mr Smith said.

Mr Smith told the jury police later recovered a pick-axe handle from a cupboard at Bowling’s sister’s home.

He said a fragment of wood found embedded in Mr Greaves’s head had been forensically matched to the weapon.

But the prosecutor said scientific analysis of the pensioner’s damaged grey fleece hat showed that a second, sharper weapon must have been used in the assault.

The court was told following the killing police gathered CCTV footage from businesses and residents in the area.

He said footage showing Foster and Bowling at the scene of the killing was released to the media at a press conference in January.

Mr Smith said several of Foster’s family and friends recognised him after seeing the footage on the news, forcing Foster to hand himself in to the police because ‘he had no other choice’.

When Foster handed himself in he told officers he was a witness, Bowling was responsible for the attack and he had “played no part in it”.

Foster told police he and Bowling had left the house after the argument and Bowling had said to him ‘we are going to smash someone’s head in’.

He said Bowling saw Mr Greaves walking along the road, ran up to him and ‘smashed him’ with such force, Bowling had fallen over.

He claimed Mr Greaves had fallen down and Bowling had asked him to hit him but he’d refused and Bowling struck him twice more.

Foster told police officers he was scared of Bowling because he had threatened to torture his family if he told anyone what had happened.

But Mr Smith told the jury of six men and six women, it was a joint enterprise and Foster and Bowling were in it together.

He said CCTV evidence showed the two men together and the evidence of two weapons being used also pointed to them both being responsible.

He told the jury: “In short, the prosecution say that these two men were walking the streets looking for a suitable victim. If it hadn’t been Mr Greaves, it would have been someone else.”

This afternoon jurors heard evidence from 17-year-old witness William Parr, of High Green.

He told the jury he was in Mortomley Park on Christmas Eve night with his friend Conrad Knell at the time of the attack when they heard a loud ‘bang’, like ‘someone hitting a lamp post’.

The teenager recalled how shortly afterwards he saw two men in the park ‘walking, talking and laughing’.

He said: “We saw two lads, they were speed-walking, like jogging. Conrad said something like ‘oi, come here’ to them and I said it a bit quiet after but they just scuttled off.”

Mr Parr told the court he had known Foster for two years and saw him a few days after the killing at the Co-Op in High Green, when Mr Parr discussed the Christmas Eve attack with him.

He said: “I was talking to him and said what a tragedy it was. I don’t really remember him saying anything back to me.”

Mr Greaves’s widow, Maureen, watched the trial from the public gallery, along with her two daughters and other supporters.

The trial continues.

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