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Teen, 16, is found guilty of murder after knifing to death father, 34, in Laindon

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A 16-year-old boy was today found guilty of murdering a Good Samaritan father during his twin daughters’ second birthday party.

The teenager knifed James Gibbons, 34, outside his home in Laindon, Essex, after the father-of-four stepped in to stop a gang of teens harassing a homeless man.

The boy plunged a six-inch knife into Mr Gibbons four times, leaving him to die just yards from where the kitchen fitter had spent the afternoon with his family.

The boy denied a single count of murder but was found guilty by a majority verdict of ten to two following a four-week trial at Chelmsford Crown Court.

The killer, who cannot be named due to his age, showed no reaction as the jury of seven women and five men returned its verdict after 14 hours of deliberation.

James Gibbons (pictured), 34, was stabbed after rushing to the aid of a homeless man outside his house in Laindon, Essex, just moments after he had kindly given the man a plate of food

James Gibbons (pictured), 34, was stabbed after rushing to the aid of a homeless man outside his house in Laindon, Essex, just moments after he had kindly given the man a plate of food

Mr Gibbons’s family openly gasped and wept today as the foreman of the jury read out the verdict, six months after the incident at about 10pm on May 2 this year.

His heartbroken mother Wendy Richards, paid an emotional tribute on the steps outside the court today, hailing her tragic son a ‘hero’ who ‘stood up to bullies’.

Surrounded by her family, she said: ‘James was a loving son, a devoted father to his four children, a protective brother, uncle, cousin and a perfect partner and soul mate to his fiancée, Victoria (Billingham).

‘James was a grafter, a real hardworking man, who wanted nothing else but to provide for his family. He, Vicky and their children had their whole future to look forward to. Unfortunately, this has been taken from them.

‘James did not like bullies, and he would always be the one who would protect and look out for vulnerable people. We are proud of him; he is our hero.’

She said they had set up Facebook and Instagram pages ‘in the hope that they will raise awareness and support others affected by knife crime’.

The father (pictured with his family, including fiancée Victoria Billingham) was stabbed in May

The father (pictured with his family, including fiancée Victoria Billingham) was stabbed in May

Mrs Richards, of Basildon, added: ‘And now it is time for us as a family to begin our grieving process, and finally lay James to rest in peace.’

He was a ‘hero’ who ‘stood up to bullies’: Emotional statement from victim’s mother 

James Gibbons’s heartbroken mother, Wendy Richards, paid an emotional tribute on the steps outside Chelmsford Crown Court today.

She said: ‘James was a loving son, a devoted father to his four children, a protective brother, uncle, cousin and a perfect partner and soul mate to his fiancée, Victoria.

‘James was a grafter, a real hardworking man, who wanted nothing else but to provide for his family. He, Vicky and their children had their whole future to look forward to. Unfortunately, this has been taken from them.

‘James did not like bullies, and he would always be the one who would protect and look out for vulnerable people. We are proud of him; he is our hero. We have set up Facebook and Instagram pages, called justice4jamesg.

‘We have set up these accounts in the hope that they will raise awareness and support others affected by knife crime and we urge the public to follow these pages to support our campaign.

‘And now it is time for us as a family to begin our grieving process, and finally lay James to rest in peace.’

She added:  ‘To the neighbours of James. To the police officers who were first on the scene. To the paramedics and ambulance crew. I know you all tried your hardest to save James’ life that night. We now know that there was nothing that could be done to save him.

‘To the Essex Police investigation team, of which there were many officers who worked quickly and tirelessly in getting the evidence and witnesses together.

‘To the prosecution team, for the hard work and hours you have put in to ensure that justice has been done today.

‘To our liaison officers, who have been our support and contact throughout this devastating time. And to victim support, we thank you all. ‘

The stabbing happened moments after Mr Gibbons was involved in a confrontation with friends of the defendant just yards from his home.

Simon Taylor QC, prosecuting, told jurors Mr Gibbons was yards from his home in Iris Mews in Laindon, when the defendant stabbed him four times.

Mr Gibbons’s partner, Victoria Billingham, said she remembered him leaving their twin daughters’ birthday barbecue to speak to a homeless man, called Christopher French, outside.

‘When he returned he told her there were a couple of 15-year-olds that were bullying Chris, taking advantage and eating his food,’ said Mr Taylor.

‘He then said he was going to have another cigarette outside with Mr French to make sure he was OK.’

She later heard a ‘loud thudding at the door’, was told to call an ambulance and saw Mr Gibbons was injured, Mr Taylor said.

The jury was told at the opening of the case that there was ‘no dispute’ the teenager had stabbed Mr Gibbons four times in his stomach.

What was crucial was whether those actions had been in self defence.

The stabbing happened in an alleyway close to Mr Gibbons’s home but the crucial moment was not captured on CCTV.

The court heard that in the moments before the killing Mr Gibbons had given food to a homeless man – Mr French – who came to his house.

They were chatting when a group of youths walked past and one came over and started pulling Mr French’s hooded top whilst another then tried to take the plate of food away.

Mr Gibbons is said to have told the youths that they ‘should get lost’ or he would ‘knock them out’.

The two youngsters left but returned about five to ten minutes later, with a much larger group of youths, mainly aged about 12 or 13 and two older ones aged between 17 and 19.

After more shouting and confrontation Mr French said he saw Mr Gibbons chase the youngsters down an alleyway.

The jury heard how Mr Gibbons then came back ‘flapping his arms’ before lifting his top up to reveal he had been stabbed before falling backwards.

The post mortem results led pathologists to estimate the blade used to stab Mr Gibbons was about six inches long.

The weapon used to kill Mr Gibbons has never been found.

Hours after the brutal killing the teen tearfully called his girlfriend and during a 43-minute call he said ‘a man has been stabbed, I think he’s dead’.

Police launched a murder investigation after Mr Gibbons died in Laindon, Essex, in May

Police launched a murder investigation after Mr Gibbons died in Laindon, Essex, in May

In another message to a friend, he declared he had ‘ducked up’ – which was auto-corrected from ‘f***ed up’.

After the attack, in a group chat, a friend told him to ‘stay low, low, low, do not go anywhere yet and when you do, have a coronavirus mask on’.

‘Today’s verdict is little consolation for the loss of a beloved dad, partner, son, brother and uncle’: Statement from Essex Police 

Speaking after the jury returned its verdict, Essex Police Senior Investigating Officer DCI Louise Metcalfe said: ‘Today I am proud to say that we have achieved justice for James and for his family. My team have worked tirelessly on this investigation.

‘However, I know today’s verdict is little consolation for the loss of a beloved dad, partner, son, brother and uncle and nothing can bring James back.

‘And more than anything, today our thoughts are with James’ family. They have carried themselves with dignity throughout the investigation and throughout the trial.

‘The teenager convicted of murder used a variety of excuses to aid his defence, including claiming that he was scared of James so had brought a knife to the scene for his own protection.

‘James was not the aggressor. He had tragically become involved in a confrontation while defending another man and lost his life. That day, he had simply been celebrating his twin daughters’ birthday with friends and family.

‘Today is not a day to celebrate but I do hope this verdict provides some comfort to James’ family and they begin to move forward after their tragic loss.’

He was then asked: ‘Have you got the knife from when you done it?’ to which he responded with ‘OFC’ – a shortened version of ‘of course’.

In the hours after the murder the teen searched the internet for news of what happened. He also investigated ‘consequences of accidentally stabbing someone’.

To another friend, he laughed as he boasted he had knifed Mr Gibson multiple times – saying ‘I chinged [slang for knifed] him 25 times.’

Mr Taylor told the jury: ‘He was laughing when he said it.’

Mr French, the homeless man fed by Mr Gibbons, was confronted by a gang of kids, one of whom ‘lobbed’ a brick which hit him in the head.

He said he did not witness the moment Mr Gibbons, who he knew as ‘Gibbo’, was stabbed.

Mr French earlier described how he had been given a plate of hot barbecue food outside Mr Gibbons’s house and chatted to him and his friends.

The defendant was remanded in custody while a pre-sentence report is prepared about him.

He will be sentenced on a date to be fixed in around three weeks’ time.

Speaking after the jury returned its verdict, Essex Police Senior Investigating Officer DCI Louise Metcalfe said: ‘Today I am proud to say that we have achieved justice for James and for his family. My team have worked tirelessly on this investigation.

‘However, I know today’s verdict is little consolation for the loss of a beloved dad, partner, son, brother and uncle and nothing can bring James back.

‘And more than anything, today our thoughts are with James’ family. They have carried themselves with dignity throughout the investigation and throughout the trial.

‘The teenager convicted of murder used a variety of excuses to aid his defence, including claiming that he was scared of James so had brought a knife to the scene for his own protection.

‘James was not the aggressor. He had tragically become involved in a confrontation while defending another man and lost his life. That day, he had simply been celebrating his twin daughters’ birthday with friends and family.

‘Today is not a day to celebrate but I do hope this verdict provides some comfort to James’ family and they begin to move forward after their tragic loss.’

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