Tees

Michael Phillips death: Trio jailed for Hartlepool burglary revenge killing

Lee Darby, Neil Elliott, Anthony Small Image copyright Cleveland Police
Image caption Lee Darby (left) was found guilty of murder while Neil Elliott (centre) and Anthony Small were convicted of manslaughter

Three men, including the boss of a multimillion-pound recycling firm, have been jailed for killing a man in revenge for a burglary.

Michael Phillips, 39, was found with 50 injuries at his home in Rydal Street, Hartlepool, on 10 June last year.

Lee Darby, 32, was jailed for life with a minimum of 23 years at Teesside Crown after being found guilty of murder.

Neil Elliott and Anthony Small were jailed for 15 and 12 years respectively having been convicted of manslaughter.

Four other men were acquitted over the killing.

Image copyright Family photo
Image caption Michael Phillips was found with multiple injuries in a house in Hartlepool in June

The court had heard Elliott, the director of multimillion-pound waste firm Niramax, was the "driving force" behind the attack on Mr Phillips as he wrongly believed the victim had burgled his daughter's home.

The court heard Elliott, 44, of Briarfields Close, Hartlepool, had decided to "take the law into his own hands" and put a post on Facebook saying, "whoever burgled my daughter's home and took her car - your life is about to change, trust me".

Mr Phillips suffered 50 injuries including 15 broken ribs, skull and facial fractures and a punctured lung and spleen.

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Neil Elliott posted on Facebook that he would change the life of the person who burgled his daughter's home

Elliott's "staunch" associate Darby, 32, of Ridley Court in Hartlepool, murdered Mr Phillips while drug addict Small, 40, who lived on the same street as the victim, helped the group get into the victim's home.

Nick Johnson QC, prosecuting, said Elliott played "the leading role" and he and Darby had planned serious violence.

The jury, in clearing Elliott of murder, may have decided he planned to cause what was short of "really serious violence", judge Mr Justice Jacobs said.

In a victim statement, Mr Phillips's brother, Phillip Sharpe, said the death had hit the family hard, particularly having to hear graphic evidence of the men "beating the air out" of their outnumbered victim.

"To hear that's what Michael had to go through in his final minutes will haunt us," Mr Sharpe said.

'Brutal and barbaric'

Mr Justice Jacobs said Elliott and Darby treated drug addicts with contempt and believed "smackheads" could have their homes entered without invitation, and that violence could follow.

The judge said: "What happened in this trial has been described as street justice.

"But the problem with street justice is that it is not justice at all and that as here, it may be administered to the wrong person in the wrong street."

The judge said their victim had sadly struggled with drug addiction, but said he was a decent man "who had his life taken away within the space of a few minutes in a brutal and barbaric attack".

'Community frightened'

Det Sgt Matthew Waterfield said it was an "unprovoked, brutal and sustained attack" in which Mr Phillips "suffered a sickening number of serious injuries".

He praised Mr Phillips' family for their "real dignity and courage" through the "unbearable" trial and a "complex" investigation.

"Understandably because of the reputation of some of the defendants, the local community was frightened and many people were just too afraid to come forward with information," Mr Waterfield said.

"This result demonstrates that police and the wider criminal justice system will always work tirelessly to bring to justice anyone who believes they can take the law into their own hands."

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