Teenager jailed for St Leonards manslaughter

Connor Ansell. Photo courtesy of Sussex Police. SUS-180806-172241001
Connor Ansell. Photo courtesy of Sussex Police. SUS-180806-172241001

A 17-year-old boy has been jailed for the manslaughter of St Leonards teenager Connor Ansell.

The 17-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was sentenced to nine years in prison at Hove Trial Centre on Friday (June 8).

The hunting-style knife with a 25cm blade and 10cm handle used to stab Connor Ansell. Photo courtesy of Sussex Police. SUS-180806-171054001

The hunting-style knife with a 25cm blade and 10cm handle used to stab Connor Ansell. Photo courtesy of Sussex Police. SUS-180806-171054001

The teenager was found guilty of manslaughter on Friday, May 18, relating to the death of 16-year-old Connor Ansell, who was stabbed, in Old Church Road, on November 18, 2017.

The teenager was previously charged with murder – a charge he denied – before being found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Jack Cunnion, 18, of Essex Road, St Leonards, who was also charged with murder, was found not guilty by the jury.

At Hove Trial Centre, on Friday (June 8), judge Jeremy Gold QC sentenced him to nine years in prison. He will serve half his sentence in custody and the remainder on licence.

The knife used in the attack and clothing belonging to both suspects were discovered in a bin outside a house in the area. Photo courtesy of Sussex Police. SUS-180806-171122001

The knife used in the attack and clothing belonging to both suspects were discovered in a bin outside a house in the area. Photo courtesy of Sussex Police. SUS-180806-171122001

Judge Gold QC said: “The background to this case amounts to problems between your friends and Connor’s. He and his group were assaulting other boys, recording it on their phones and posting it on social media. Had that behaviour been reported then it could have been dealt with and Connor could well be here today.”

The court head how, on November 18, 2017, Connor Ansell had been walking alone when he was approached by the defendant who was carrying a hunting-style knife with a 25cm blade and 10cm handle.

Addressing the defendant, judge Gold QC said: “You stabbed him once in the abdomen which resulted in his death. You ran away to a friend’s house and discarded of the knife and some clothing in an attempt to escape apprehension for the crime.”

Police said a passing driver saw the incident happen, stopped and shouted out in the direction of the altercation causing the boy and Jack Cunnion, who was with him, to run off leaving Connor fatally injured on the ground. Connor got up and tried to run but began staggering some 20 metres further into Upper Church Road where he collapsed.

Floral tributes left in memory of Connor SUS-171129-162541001

Floral tributes left in memory of Connor SUS-171129-162541001

Police said the driver went over to Connor who told her he had been stabbed. She called the emergency services, and shortly afterwards paramedics and the police were at the scene. At this point Connor was conscious and breathing and when asked by the police officer if he knew who had stabbed him, he was able to name two people who he believed were responsible. They were both known to him.

After the stabbing, Connor was taken to the Royal Sussex County Hospital, in Brighton, in a critical condition but passed away from his injuries on Friday, November 24.

During the initial investigation of the incident by the police, the knife used in the attack and clothing belonging to both suspects which they were wearing at the time of the incident, were discovered in a bin outside a house where the suspects had run to immediately afterwards, according to police.

Police said when the 17-year-old suspect was interviewed by officers, he made no comment. However Jack Cunnion gave a prepared statement saying he thought the 17-year-old had punched Connor and that he had run off after him as he did not know what was happening. Both were subsequently jointly charged with assaulting Connor, who was still alive at that point, and were remanded in custody. Following Connor’s death the following week, those charges were duly amended to murder charges, the offence for which they stood trial.

Sentencing, judge Gold added: “When you were arrested, you offered no assistance at interviewing when you were under no duty to do so.

“When sentencing you, I have to take into account the issue of youngsters carrying knives in public places. We have to give sentences to reflect the seriousness of the crime until lessons are learned.”

In a statement read to the court by defence barrister Ryan Richter, the 17-year-old defendant apologised for his actions.

His statement read: “I feel extremely sorry for Connor’s friends and family. I know there are no words to repair the damage I caused but I really wish I could.

“My biggest regret was I wish I had done all I could to improve the situation until it was out of my control. I wish I had spoken to the police. I really regret carrying a knife. I guess I never really understood the consequences of doing so.”

The court was also read victim impact statements from Connor’s mother, uncle and the mother of one of Connor’s close friends.

Connor’s mother Michelle Hitchman provided a statement to the court which was read aloud in her absence by Philip Bennetts, prosecuting.

She said: “I am still in disbelief. I still think he is here or I expect him to just reappear. Ever since his death, I have felt suicidal as life is not worth living. I spend all my time in my room either crying or sleeping.

“I find it difficult to talk to anyone and I cannot celebrate any events. On mother’s day, I didn’t leave my bed all day. It has dramatically affected me and my family. My eight-year-old son is very angry and he talks of hurting people.

“I couldn’t bring myself to court today as I couldn’t face the people responsible for my son’s death. I want others to feel my pain, to feel the punishment that has caused me much pain.

“I do not have any motivation for anything. I cannot see an end to this unless I take my own life. I have nothing to look forward to.”

In a statement released through Sussex Police, she added: “The death of my son has caused much heartache and self-destruction, not just to myself but to everyone who knew him.

“Connor was a loveable rogue and a free spirit. He was loving and caring and he would do anything for anyone.

“He had overcome so many hurdles in life and I was proud of the man he was becoming. He had been to college and was looking for work and he had so much ahead of him.

“Our hearts will forever be broken and I will forever mourn the loss of my son. As a family I wish for us to be alone in peace to grieve.”

Connor’s uncle and Michelle’s brother Jason Hitchman described his 16-year-old nephew as ‘loving and kind’.

In a statement read to the court on his behalf, he added: “The lead-up to his death is a complete blur but I sometimes get flashbacks to it. At times, I think of doing things I shouldn’t.

“Ever since his death, I have been on complete edge and I have struggled to sleep. The slightest noise can affect me.

“Connor was looking to get into the construction business and was heading in the right direction. His future was bright but this has now been taken away from him.”

The court also heard a statement from the mother of Connor’s close friend Kyle.

Michelle Larkin was not present but her statement was read by Mr Bennetts and said: “Connor and Kyle were planning what to do for their future. The world had been against Connor but he was so proud of what he was achieving and was so happy about what the future held.

“I am grieving because Kyle is struggling so much. Connor had goals but he never got the chance to see them through. I cannot convey our true emotions.”

Detective Inspector Gordon Denslow, of the Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team, said: “Our thoughts and sympathies are with Connor’s family and friends.

“In my role as a Senior Investigating Officer, I see first-hand the catastrophic consequences that knife crime can cause. I see the devastating impact on victims and families, as well as on the perpetrators and their families. I see lives disappear in an instant.

“Knife crime and the fear of knife crime causes real fear and concern within our communities. Carrying a knife can never be the answer to a problem. It is more likely to lead to the carrier being seriously hurt or even killed themselves or being sent to prison for a long time.

“Whatever the outcome, the lesson to be learned is clear - please do not carry knives. Knives cost lives.”