Murder accused tells jury he was ‘nowhere near’ church organist

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A man accused of murdering a Sheffield church organist on Christmas Eve told a jury he saw another man hit the father-of-four over the head twice with a pick axe handle.

Ashley Foster, aged 22, told Sheffield Crown Court he shouted “no” loudly as Jonathan Bowling ran towards lay preacher Alan Greaves with the weapon.

Mr Greaves, aged 68, was walking from his home in High Green to play the organ at St Saviour’s Church when he was fatally attacked.

Foster denies murdering Mr Greaves but admits being with Bowling at the time of the attack.

Bowling has admitted the murder.

Giving evidence in his defence this morning, Foster said Bowling ran towards the pensioner, pulled a pick-axe handle out of his trousers and struck him with it.

Foster said: “He jumped and smacked that man on the side, here,” indicating an area above his right eyebrow where the blow hit Mr Greaves.

Asked how hard Bowling hit Mr Greaves, he said: “Really hard.

“As the pick axe hit his head all I could hear was like a big bang sound.”

Foster said Mr Greaves fell to the floor and Bowling also fell over.

He said Mr Greaves tried to get up and was sitting up against the railings when Bowling swung the axe with both hands back over his head and brought it down again.

“The man fell back down,” he said.

“I tried to move but I wasn’t really functioning.”

The jury has been told Mr Greaves sustained “grave and catastrophic” head injuries and he died in hospital three days after the attack.

Prosecutors say he was hit with a pick-axe handle and another weapon, possibly a hammer and argue both Bowling and Foster were involved.

Foster, of Wesley Road, High Green, said before the attack, he and Bowling, of Carwood Way, Pitsmoor, had been walking around High Green following a dispute at home.

He said Bowling had threatened to kill a man at a family gathering because he thought he had been making allegations about him relating to Foster’s girlfriend.

Foster said was trying calm Bowling down and did not want to go home while he was still threatening to harm the other man.

He told the jury Bowling was shoving him and when he saw Mr Greaves walking along the road, swore and told Bowling: “You better go and hit that man there.”

Foster claimed he replied: “I’m not hitting no-one.”

The defendant told the jury he was in shock after the attack.

He said: “I tried to start running. It was like something hit me and told me to run home, like my body had come back to me, like my soul had come back to me.”

He said he started running home but got a stitch and had to stop.

“I was panicking. I’d run that much I’d got a stitch. I was trying to get home to lock the door and ring the police. I couldn’t breathe, It was burning in my throat.”

Foster said Bowling caught up with him and grabbed hold of both his wrists.

“That’s when he said to me ‘that’s me being normal - imagine me going sick’.”

Foster claimed Bowling told him: “You better not say owt or I’ll kill you because I’ll know it’s from you.”

Foster said he and Bowling returned to his house and he told no-one about the incident.

He said he felt ‘horrible’ and the next day he was unable to eat his Christmas Dinner.

“I couldn’t eat, knowing he’d done that,” he told the jury.

Foster claimed on Christmas Day Bowling was ‘laughing’ and ‘found it funny’.

Asked by his barrister Adrian Waterman QC if he’d had a weapon that night, Foster replied: “No.”

Asked if he or Jono had a hammer, he also replied: “No.”

Then he was asked if he had hit Mr Greaves.

Foster said: “No, I was nowhere near him.”

The trial continues.

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