Pair get life for gay barman murder

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Two men who kicked, punched and stamped a 24-year-old man to death because he was gay have been sentenced to life at the Old Bailey today.

Thomas Pickford, 26, unemployed, of no fixed address and Scott Walker, 33, a decorator from the Clapham area, pleaded guilty last month to the murder of Jody Dobrowski.

Today at the Central Criminal Court Walker was sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation he serve no less than 28 years.

Pickford was sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation he serve no less than 28 years.

The drink-fuelled attack on bar manager Jody Dobrowski from Newham took place at about midnight on October 14 2005.

Mr Dobrowski was in an area of Clapham Common, which is used by gay men to meet. He had been visiting a friend at her nearby flat earlier that evening.

Walker and Pickford were returning to a nearby hostel for released offenders from a night of drinking in Lavender Hill and decided to cross the Common.

On their way, Pickford tried to grab a woman in Battersea Rise as she got off a bus and verbally abused her. She later helped identify Pickford as a suspect and noticed one of the men was carrying a bottle.

The pair encountered their victim and following a brief exchange of words, Pickford threw punches at Mr Dobrowski. Walker joined in the assault enthusiastically. Jody Dobrowski’s head, neck and body were punched, kicked and stamped on.

Witnesses saw and heard the sustained assault and one who tried to intervene was warned off by Walker and Pickford. One of the suspects said: “We don’t like poofters here and that’s why we can kill him if we want.” The witness was threatened with similar treatment. He called the police.

Officers arrived in the area and were guided to the scene by the witness. The PC who found Mr Dobrowski described his face as “a bloody, swollen pulp”.

Jody Dobrowski was taken to St George’s Hospital where he was found to have severe lacerations, swelling and bruising to his face. A CT scan revealed a haematoma ( a blood clot) at the front of his skull.

During the CT scan his condition deteriorated and he was taken to the operating theatre, then to intensive care, where he died at 1030 on October 15 2005.

Mr Dobrowski was so badly injured that a pathologist was unable to say how many times he had been hit but identified 33 areas of injury to his head, face, ears and neck.

He had a swollen brain, a broken nose and extensive bruising to his neck and spine as well as to his groin.

The pathologist concluded that his death was a result of the combination of the brain injury, extensive bleeding, the inhalation of blood and a severe crushing injury to the larynx.

His family could not identify his body due to his injuries and this was done through fingerprint comparison.

As the police had arrived at the scene Walker and Pickford parted company as they fled and returned to the hostel.

Enquiries led police to the hostel and officers interviewed residents and staff from the hostel. Resident Kevin Hanlon recalled that shortly after the murder Pickford had returned and said: “I’ve just kicked the crap out of someone. I feel great.” He noticed Pickford was covered in blood.

He recalled that Walker had returned 15 to 20 minutes later without any blood on him but also spoke about “kicking the crap out” of someone. Hanlon also recalled that he had heard the hostel’s washing machine being used.

Pickford visited St George’s Hospital, Tooting on the afternoon of 15/10/05 for treatment to fractures in the fourth and fifth metacarpal bones in his left hand. He is left-handed.

Walker was seen to be constantly checking Teletext for news of the murder.

On October 20 2005 hostel staff contacted police and Walker was arrested at the hostel the following day. Pickford, who was asked to leave the hostel a few days earlier after admitting taking heroin, was arrested in Croydon.

In interview Pickford admitted starting the assault on Mr Dobrowski, claiming he did so to impress Walker.

He said Mr Dobrowski tried to fight back. He said Walker broke Mr Dobrowski’s arm by twisting it and tried to break his leg. Walker had hit Jody with his own shoe before stuffing his sock in his mouth and broken a beer bottle over Mr Dobrowski’s head. Fragments of this bottle and a sock were found during police searches.

Pickford claimed he was too frightened of Walker to stop him continuing the attack. “I just wanted to look like a hard man.” He told officers.

Walker refused to comment during interview.

As well as detailed of the murder, the sentencing judge also heard of an attack on another man in the same area of the common on 1/10/05. He was hit between 20 and 30 times by a group of three men. He went to hospital the following day. This assault was not reported to police at the time.

During interviews with Kevin Hanlon about the murder he told police he had been drinking in Camberwell with Pickford and Walker on that night and walking across the common.

Hanlon said they had encountered this victim and Pickford had asked him what he was doing there before punching him. Walker then joined in and they kicked and punched the victim despite Hanlon’s protests.

Pickford denied involvement in this assault which was entered as evidence of bad character.

DCI Nick Scola who led the investigation into the murder said: “Jody Dobrowski was beaten to death for no reason other than he was gay. He was chased across Clapham Common by two drunken men until he stumbled in the dark, where they carried out a sickening and brutal attack.

“The intense investigation that followed resulted in both Pickford and Walker pleading guilty to murder, and is a measure of the high priority the Metropolitan Police Service attaches to such futile crime motivated by hate.

“I hope today’s sentences will send out a strong message that crimes such as these will be dealt with robustly by the courts and will always be vigorously investigated by police. We can be grateful that neither Pickford nor Walker will be able to pose a threat to anybody else for a long time.

“Nothing will bring Jody back but I hope that the conviction and sentencing of these cowardly men will help those who loved him come to terms with their loss.”

Borough Commander Joe Royle, said: “We have been working with Galop and the LGBT community to address concerns over personal safety and to encourage the reporting of homophobic attacks. The Wandsworth LGBT Forum continues to build on the strong relationship that formed days after the tragic loss of Jody.

“It was a violent and horrific assault motivated by hate and I hope the sentence will allow the Dobrowski family closure in their efforts to rebuild their lives.

“People who use public sex environments have to be aware of the potential risks. We are aware that there is underreporting of such incidents but by not reporting incidents to the police, Crimestoppers or LGBT support groups, our roles in tackling threats to personal safety become more difficult.

“We would therefore urge people to call at least one of these organisations if they become a victim of crime. You can remain anonymous but your information could help prevent further offences.”

“These sentences properly reflect that this was an appalling crime,’ said gay charity Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill. ‘It’s absolutely right that murder motivated by hatred of minority communities should be treated with this sort of severity.”

Prosecutor Crispin Aylett told the Old Bailey: “This was a murder aggravated by sexual orientation.”

Mr Summerskill added, “This tragic killing was a sober reminder of how much prejudice still exists in some people, even in one of the most tolerant cities in Britain.”

“To reflect this environment, we hope the government will now consider introduction of an offence of incitement to homophobic hatred. In that way, some good might come out of Jody’s horrific death.”