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Billy Joe Friend once wrongly convicted of murder jailed for supermarket robberies in Swanley and Sevenoaks


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A thug once wrongly convicted of murder has been jailed for more than seven years for committing robberies at two supermarkets.

Billy Joe Friend was sentenced to life at the age of 15 in 1996 for the fatal stabbing of Ben O’Connor, 18, at a party in Plumstead, south east London.

Friend, now 37, spent almost 10 years in custody before the Court of Appeal ruled the conviction was unsafe, because he suffered from ADHD which meant he was unable to give evidence properly.

Billy Joe Friend has been jailed for seven years and four months. Picture: Kent Police (4323915)
Billy Joe Friend has been jailed for seven years and four months. Picture: Kent Police (4323915)

He was given £1 million in compensation. Instead it was Friend’s brother, also sentenced to life, who committed the murder.

In the latest case, Friend, of Upper Fant Road, Maidstone, and an accomplice raided Asda in Swanley and Tesco in Sevenoaks, stealing TVs. He was also accused of robbing a taxi driver in Rainham in March, but the jury could not reach a verdict.

Maidstone Crown Court heard the father-of-four threatened security guard Monique Booysen with a hockey stick at the Asda store. She told burly Friend: “I f------ dare you.” She grappled with him and chased him as he and his accomplice fled with a stolen TV.

Miss Booysen, who had only been in the job for six months, said the man carrying the TV ignored her requests to stop as they left the store just after 9pm on March 10.

She made a grab for the “spider” security tag wrapped around the box as they headed towards the exit.

“When I got hold of the TV, the larger guy shouted at me to let go or he would hit me with his stick,” she said.

“I told him ‘I ------- dare you’ and then I followed him outside.

“The larger guy pushed me out of the way. I ended up on the floor. They then got in the car and drove off with the TV.”

She later told police she had been angry and was determined to recover the TV.

Friend also stole a television in a robbery at Tesco’s in Sevenoaks on January 30. Prosecutor Peter Alcock said Friend and an accomplice were confronted by staff as they carried the boxed set out of the store.

The Tesco Supermarket at Riverhead could be set for an expansion...........................picture by John Westhrop (4300834)
The Tesco Supermarket at Riverhead could be set for an expansion...........................picture by John Westhrop (4300834)

The accomplice told employee Ben Kelly he had a knife and would stab him.

Friend added: “He has got a knife, he’ll use it.”

Mr Kelly and colleague Tom Wolf backed off and the two men then left with the TV.

Friend admitted two theft charges but denied robbery. A jury convicted him of the more serious charges. He also admitted shoplifting at Peacocks and Tesco’s in Sheerness in February.

The court heard Friend was jailed for seven years in 2007 for another robbery and was on licence when he committed the latest offences.

Stephen Nelson, defending, said he had known Friend for over 20 years and his regret and remorse was “entirely genuine”.

Mr Nelson said Friend spent a lengthy period in custody for murder before it was shown he could not have committed it.

“He had become somewhat institutionalised and in many ways found coping in the outside world somewhat difficult,” he said.

Billy Joe Friend was wrongly jailed in 1996 after being found guilty of the stabbing of Ben O’Connor
Billy Joe Friend was wrongly jailed in 1996 after being found guilty of the stabbing of Ben O’Connor

Mr Nelson said the latest robberies were shoplifting that “went very wrong”.

Mr Nelson said Friend was now on a drug-free spur in prison and an enhanced inmate. He had a highly sought after job as a laundry boy. He was also a violence reduction orderly.

Jailing him for seven years and four months, Judge Martin Huseyin told him: “You are experienced enough in your interactions with the criminal justice system to know what happens if you went out prepared to use force in the course of shoplifting.

“You knew what you were getting yourself into. You were clearly in a chaotic state, using drugs and alcohol to excess. You are not in any way a sophisticated offender.”

The judge said Miss Booysen was “obviously a brave young woman and not easily shrugged off”.You served a very long time as a young man for a murder you didn’t commit.That has given you problems resettling into normal life.”

He added: “You are 37 and have got children. You want to see them grow up. Your behaviour in this case was, frankly, not the behaviour of a 37-year-old father.

“I can protect the public for a while. The only person who can do that in the future when released is you.”

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