Guilty: The teenage binge drinkers who kicked a girl to death for being a Goth

Last updated at 18:37 27 March 2008

A boy of 15 was today convicted of murdering a young woman who was kicked to death in a park because she was dressed as a Goth.

Brendan Harris attacked Sophie Lancaster, 20, when she begged him and four other drunken youths to stop beating her boyfriend, Robert Maltby.

The trial judge Anthony Russell QC lifted an order on naming him after he was found guilty. Ryan Herbert, 16, had already admitted murdering Miss Lancaster in Bacup, Lancashire, last August.

A police spokesman said the murder was one of the most violent he had ever seen. Det Supt Mick Gradwell also criticised the thugs and their parents for laughing and joking in court.

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Killers: 15-year-old Brendan Harris, left, and Ryan Herbert. Harris was found guilty of the murder of Sophie Lancaster at Preston Crown Court today. Herbert had already pleaded guilty

Preston Crown Court heard the gang had been drinking heavily before the attack and had behaved "like a pack of wild animals", launching vicious and unprovoked attacks on the couple simply because they dressed differently.

Miss Lancaster, a gap year student, died in hospital two weeks after the incident. Her injuries were so severe that when paramedics arrived at the scene, they could not tell whether she was male or female.

Mr Maltby, an art student, survived but has not fully recovered from the attack.

Harris had denied the murder charge but pleaded guilty to causing grievous bodily harm to Mr Maltby after drinking two litres of cider, a bottle of Stella Artois lager and "quite a lot" of peach schnapps.

Herbert admitted murdering Miss Lancaster before he was also due to go on trial. He also pleaded guilty to assaulting her boyfriend.

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Tragic: Sophie Lancaster was murdered by Harris because she dressed as a Goth

Three other males, two aged 17 and one aged 16, who can still not be named, also pleaded guilty to assaulting Mr Maltby.

Judge Russell praised the families of both Miss Lancaster and Mr Maltby, saying they had acted with dignity during what must have been "a very, very harrowing ordeal".

He also publicly thanked four witnesses who had helped the victims and given evidence in court despite loyalties that he described as "very strained". He ordered them to be awarded £250 each by way of thanks.

The judge also explained that he was duty bound to give Harris and Herbert life sentences given their convictions for murder, but that he would set the tariffs after reading pre-sentence reports.

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Sophie Lancaster

Life support: But Sophie died later in hospital

After the verdicts, Sylvia Lancaster, Sophie's mother, said: "I am convinced Sophie was killed simply because of the way she looked. She did not necessarily conform to the ideals of those who took her life.

"If we are to make any sense of Sophie's death, perhaps we should see it as an opportunity to examine how all of us, particularly younger people, can become blinkered.

"I believe that today, more than ever, we need to show respect, compassion and tolerance for those whose appearance and culture differs from our own."

Mr Maltby - who had been attacked four times before that night - said he had lost his "entire world" that he wished the gang had killed him instead.

He added: "Really what they were trying to do was humiliate us, and beside the obvious things that I am annoyed at, that is what I am annoyed about the most. It seems to display just arrogance."

Asked what he missed most about his girlfriend, he said: "I can sum it up in the fact that I will wake up in the morning and I look to my side and I am on my own, and just then it is like, 'This isn't right'."

The young couple, who had been going out for six months, were walking home from a friend's house to their flat shortly before midnight when they began chatting with a group of teenagers.

They drifted into the park where the good-natured conversation continued. Tthey even handed out cigarettes to the group.

However, the mood changed suddenly when the five teenage boys turned on Mr Maltby in the skate park area.

Someone was heard to shout "let's bang him". Harris started the orgy of violence by aiming a flying kick at the 21-year-old art student.

The gang, described in court as "acting like a pack of wild animals", then punched, jumped and stamped on his head until he was unconscious.

Miss Lancaster screamed at them to stop as she cradled her boyfriend's head.

But Herbert delivered a volley-style kick to her face. Harris then joined in, kicking and stamping on her head as she lay on the ground.

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Devastated: Boyfriend Robert Maltby, who was also beaten by the thugs, at girlfriend Sophie Lancaster's funeral

Harris admitted starting the chain of events when he punched Mr Maltby.

He told police he did not know why he did it and was just "drunk and showing off".

But he claimed he then stood aside as up to four youths waded into Mr Maltby and then looked on as Miss Lancaster was assaulted.

A series of teenaged witnesses conradicted his story, telling the court he was "in the thick of it".

Harris argued that Herbert was solely responsible and the witnesses to the incident in the badly lit park must have been mistaken.

The jury was also told no traces of blood from Miss Lancaster were found on Harris's shoes or the clothing he wore on the night of the attack.

Harris, dressed in a dark grey suit, black shirt and not wearing a tie, did not react in the dock as the unanimous verdict was read out.

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Fight for life: Sophie Lancaster's boyfriend Robert Maltby in hospital after the attack

Family members and friends of Miss Lancaster who were sitting in the packed public gallery gasped and began crying as the jury foreman answered "guilty".

It has also emerged that Herbert, of Rossendale Crescent, Bacup, and Harris, of Spring Terrace, Bacup, have previous convictions after they chased a youth out of Stubbylee Park and assaulted him.

Both were given six months' community service orders at Rossendale Youth Court for the attack in April last year.

They targeted a 16-year-old boy who was in their group as they kicked and stamped on him.

Outside the courtroom, Miss Lancaster's friends and family hugged each other and the police officers in charge of the case.

Footage was also released that showed Ryan Herbert in a mocked-up music video called "Hands up for Bacup".

In it, the 16-year-old is seen with three other youths performing a rap about the town over footage of various local landmarks.

In one repeated section, all four can be seen menacingly swinging wooden poles as they stride towards the camera.

Herbert, dressed in a black hooded top, is also seen confidently swaggering down a street and crossing a road.

He does not sing on his own but only forms part of the chorus - the "Bacup Crew".

In a section sung by one of the other youths, a boy raps: "Enough men die in this town/You mess with GBH you go down."

The video was put together as part of a youth project and was uploaded on to internet video-sharing sites but has since been taken down.

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