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‘You behaved like animals’ – Five men and boy sentenced after attack at West Meadows travellers’ site, Ipswich

PUBLISHED: 14:00 10 May 2017 | UPDATED: 16:38 10 May 2017

Six sentenced for violent disorder and criminal damage.  Top left to right: William Harbour, Ernest Oakley, Swayley Smith Bottom left to right: Levi Harbour, Henry Harbour

Six sentenced for violent disorder and criminal damage. Top left to right: William Harbour, Ernest Oakley, Swayley Smith Bottom left to right: Levi Harbour, Henry Harbour

Archant

Five men and a boy have been sentenced after a “brutal” and “sickening” arson attack at a travellers’ site in Ipswich in which a horse was killed and police were warned a “war” would break out if they tried to intervene.

Police at the West Meadows travellers' site. Picture: ARCHANTPolice at the West Meadows travellers' site. Picture: ARCHANT

“You behaved like animals”, Judge Rupert Overbury told the defendants at Ipswich Crown Court today.

Two caravans were set alight and several properties were damaged on the night of December 11 last year. Nobody was injured.

The court was shown CCTV footage recorded by a police helicopter of a horse being beaten to death by members of the group with a piece of wood. The footage was too distressing for most in the court. Some of the defendants sat forward, head in hands.

The incident took place three days after the alleged murders of Barry Street, 32, and Nathan Oakley, 18, at the West Meadows site. They both died from suspected stab wounds. A 17-year-old boy faces trial for their murders next month.

William Harbour. Picture: SUFFOLK POLICEWilliam Harbour. Picture: SUFFOLK POLICE

Judge Overbury said: “(The arson attack) was a particularly serious incident. There is no dispute that the motivation for such disorder was the fatal double stabbing at the same location (three days prior).”

“It was a revenge attack.”

Ernest Oakley, 22, of West Meadows, Ipswich, was given a three-year jail term for violent disorder and a consecutive four-month prison sentence for the criminal damage charge, which related to the death of the horse.

The court was told that one of the fatal stabbing victims, Nathan Oakley, was his brother, and the other, Barry Street, was his best friend. Matthew Sorel-Cameron, defending Oakley, told the court that “tensions were rising”.

Ernest Oakley. Picture: SUFFOLK POLICEErnest Oakley. Picture: SUFFOLK POLICE

William Harbour, 32, of Woodland Way, Ipswich, was given a three-year jail term for violent disorder and a consecutive two-month prison sentence for breaching a suspended sentence.

Henry Harbour, 21, of Meadow Lane, Runwell, Essex, was given a three-year jail term for violent disorder and a consecutive four-month prison sentence for the criminal damage charge.

Levi Harbour, 20, of Meadow Lane, Runwell, was detained for three years in a young offender’s institution.

Swayley Smith, 24, of Ings Road, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, was sentenced to three years in prison for violent disorder.

Swayley Smith. Picture: SUFFOLK POLICESwayley Smith. Picture: SUFFOLK POLICE

A 14-year-old boy from Essex, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was given a 12-month referral order, including 36 hours of unpaid work, after pleading guilty to violent disorder and criminal damage.

Each defendant expressed deep remorse and shame over the incident through their lawyers in court. The court heard that some had got caught up in the “emotion” of the circumstances.

Judge Overbury said the attack was “prolonged, pre-meditated and organised”.

He said: “You were out of control. You damaged anything that came to hand using pieces of wood, an axe and your fists.”

Levi Harbour. Picture: SUFFOLK POLICELevi Harbour. Picture: SUFFOLK POLICE

He described the “bludgeoning and slaughter” of the horse as “sickening and brutal”.

He said: “It was an appalling act of animal cruelty. The horse was obviously in distress. It brings shame to a community who ordinarily prides itself on caring for ponies and horses. This was barbaric.”

The total cost of the arson attack to police was around £340,000. Police resources were brought in from as far as Bedfordshire. Just under £60,000 damage was caused.

The court also heard police were initially told at the scene by a member of the group that “there would be war” and a “full riot” if police gathered extra resources.

Henry Harbour. Picture: SUFFOLK POLICEHenry Harbour. Picture: SUFFOLK POLICE

Petrol bottles were thrown during the attack and a van rammed into one of the caravans. The incident was reported at 10.10pm and ended at around 1.45am on the following day after police had “retaken control”, the court heard.

Family members of the defendants wept as they left the court room.

Speaking after the case, Detective Chief Superintendent David Skevington said: “This was a large and very complex policing operation. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody involved who successfully brought the situation to a peaceful conclusion without any person being injured.

“Operations such as this are as a rarity in Suffolk and it is testament to the professionalism of officers and staff that the response was so effective.”


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