Published: 16:00, 03 April 2014
Two men have today been jailed for the brutal killing of "gentle" alcoholic David Wilkes after an attack in a Canterbury park.
Lloyd Thorne, who changed his plea to guilty to manslaughter in the middle of his trial, was given a nine-and-a-half-year sentence.
And the man who "recruited him" for the gratuitous attack, 51-year-old Peter Clement, was sent to prison for 10 years after being found guilty by the jury.
Both men, who have no fixed addresses, were told by the judge neither of them had set out to kill their victim in the peace garden at Dane John Gardens on a summer's day last year.
Judge Adele Williams said: "It is an ironic feature in this case that the unlawful violence which led to the death of your victim took place in a place that is called a peace garden in Dane John Gardens in Canterbury."
Canterbury Crown Court heard how the drunken thugs had punched and kicked 35-year-old Mr Wilkes after accusing him of being "a nonce" and hitting women.
Barrister Oliver Saxby QC revealed at the end of the prosecution case in January that Thorne, who is 24 tomorrow, said he wanted to plead guilty "because it was the right thing to do".
He said: "He told me that he wasn't prepared to go into the witness box and lie."
The jury had heard how Mr Wilkes had been sitting quietly on a bench with friend Ann Bailes and her son in July when Clement started an argument.
Alcoholic Clement - who knew his victim - said he had downed 15 cans of Special Brew lager before the attack.
The judge told him that because of his addiction he saw things "differently than most people".
She added: "I have no doubt that in your drunken state you misread or misinterpreted something that was said to you. I also have no doubt that you wanted to pick a fight."
Clement went up to Mr Wilkes and accused him of hitting his friend Ms Bailes - calling him "a nonce" - a word usually meaning a child molester.
He started kicking and punching Mr Wilkes who was offering no resistance - as Thorne and a friend arrived in the park.
The judge added: "Mr Wilkes was a complete stranger to you and you were recruited by Clement and joined in the attack with enthusiasm.
"Finally you delivered a punch of such force it knocked Mr Wilkes to the ground where he struck his head."
Mr Wilkes was taken to hospital with a severe head wound and died six days later from his injuries - causing shock and grief to his friends and family.
Clement later told police he had "bashed" his victim "because he was a nonce".
Judge Williams said: "Mr Wilkes was regarded as a gentle person and nothing I can say nor any sentence I can pass is in anyway designed to put a value on his life.
"This was a sustained attack, gratuitous violence in the centre of Canterbury in a public place."
Ms Bailes had told the jury how she watched Thorne lift Mr Wilkes from the floor with his right hand before delivering a blow with his left fist.
Prosecutor Robert Acheson asked: "How hard did Mr Wilkes' head hit the concrete?"
She replied: "Out of 100?...100! It was a thud."
Video: Police at the scene of the Dane John Gardens attack
DCI Dave Chewter, from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, said: "This was an unprovoked and violent assault with tragic circumstances.
"Both Thorne and Clement were responsible for Mr Wilkes' death and will be able to contemplate their actions where they belong – in prison."
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