Gravedigger death: man jailed for five years

A 23-year-old man who killed a convicted paedophile because he allegedly made sexual advances to him has been jailed for five years.

David Thomas claimed he throttled gravedigger Richard Baker, 45, to death with his belt because he was "sick and tired" of him "trying his luck".

Thomas was just 16 when he struck up a friendship with Mr Baker after the older man was released from a two-and-a-half year prison sentence for molesting Boy Scouts.

Mr Baker, of Whitefriars Road, was described as a "soft touch" who allowed Thomas to stay in his home, giving him money and alcohol.

But Thomas, of Battle Road, St Leonards, strangled Mr Baker to death in his flat in Hastings after he allegedly made sexual advances to him.

A murder trial was halted last April after Thomas, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

During the trial, prosecutor Michael Birnbaum QC told Lewes Crown Court: "On the evening of August 16 last year he strangled Mr Baker with his belt.

"His case is that he strangled him because Mr Baker had made sexual advances and lewd advances to him.

"Since he (Mr Baker) was a child he had been a keen member of the Scout movement and as an adult became a Scout leader.

"While he was a Scout leader he committed some offences. On March 22 1989 at this court Mr Baker pleaded guilty to five counts of indecent assault.

"These were all committed at Scout camps while he was a Scout leader and all the victims were boys under 16."

He said that following his release from a two-and-a-half year sentence, Mr Baker began working at the Church-in-the-Wood in Hollington and became a grave digger.

It was then he met Thomas who, according to another church worker, treated Mr Baker as a "soft touch".

Mr Birnbaum QC said: "He started to drink in his late teens and by the time of the killing there seems to be no doubt he was an alcoholic."

He said after killing Mr Baker, Thomas rang 999 operators from his mobile phone. He added: "He said this of Mr Baker, 'He tried it on with me and then I was sick and tired of him doing that. I know it's my fault for coming around here in the first place. I just couldn't handle it anymore'.

"He confirmed he was in the same room as Mr Baker who was already dead. When asked why he did it he said, 'Dunno, getting tired of his trying to play on the legs and things like that. He's always trying to try his luck, just couldn't handle it anymore. I strangled him with my belt'.

"Another remark was, 'He started stroking my leg so I got it into my head to strangle him and I did it'."

The court heard two weeks before the killing, Thomas had attended Hastings Police Station with his mother to report an allegation of sexual abuse.

Mr Birnbaum said this was, 'presumably by Mr Baker,' but a statement was never taken after Thomas failed to return a police officer's calls.

The court heard in June 2002 Mr Baker had reported Thomas to police for assaulting him and making threats to kill but the case was dropped after he withdrew his statement.

Mr Birnbaum told the court at the time of the killing Thomas had been four times the legal drink-drive limit and later claimed to a psychiatrist that the late President Kennedy had "told him" to kill Mr Baker in a vision.

Defending Thomas, who appeared for sentence at Lewes Crown Court, Simon Russell-Flint QC said: "From the 999 call to the police on the night of the 16th and in the comments that he made to police officers then, and in the course of interview under caution, he freely admitted his responsibility for the death.

"It's clear when death occurred that the defendant's responsibility for his actions was substantially diminished because of the mental disorder he was suffering at the time.

"He's a young man. He will continue to have to live with the consequences of what he's done for the rest of his life."

Jailing Thomas, Judge Richard Brown told him: "Mr recollection is that on the last occasion I said this was a tragic case for Richard Baker and his family and friends.

"He was obviously well-liked by many people. No sentence this court can pass can turn the clock back.

"Now we have learned a hospital order is no longer an appropriate way to deal with you.

"Diminished responsibility means what it says - the responsibility is reduced but I take the view you still carry considerable responsibility for the death of Richard Baker."

Detective Inspector Geoff Childs, who led the investigation, said: "We are satisfied that the matter has now come to conclusion and that both the families involved can now move on."