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George French jailed for life and William Fleming jailed for 12 years after killing Michael Tierney in Chatham

Reporting by Paul Hooper, Lynn Cox and Sian Napier

A man has been jailed for life after savagely beating a Chatham dad to death with a pickaxe handle and stamping on his head.

George French, 39, was convicted of the murder of Michael Tierney yesterday at Canterbury Crown Court.

Today he was jailed for life, and must serve a minimum of 18 years before being considered for parole.

George French has been found guilty of murdering Michael Tierney
George French has been found guilty of murdering Michael Tierney

His cousin, William Fleming, 27, has been found guilty of manslaughter.

He was jailed for 12 years, and must serve an extra three years on licence.

The jury of eight women and four men reached a unanimous verdict yesterday after more than seven hours of deliberations.

During the three-week trial, the prosecution had claimed that the victim, Mr Tierney, was beaten and stamped on following an incident in Haig Avenue.

Prosecutor Alexandra Healy QC had previously told the jury: “The circumstances of his death, you may feel, were utterly senseless.”

French, of Ansell Avenue and Fleming, of White Road, both Chatham had denied murdering the 33-year-old dad-of-one.

Ms Healy had claimed that on June 15 this year “two drunk men, one of whom was French, kicked through the gate that Mr Tierney had built near his home in Glencoe Road”.

William Fleming was jailed for 12 years.
William Fleming was jailed for 12 years.

She added: “These men were being aggressive and intimidating to Mr Tierney’s partner and to his neighbours who had rushed to the scene when they heard a noise.

“Mr Tierney took up a pickaxe handle from his house and ran after the two men. The two separated and Mr Tierney pursued French into Haig Avenue," she said.

The prosecutor also said French turned to confront Mr Tierney and successfully wrestled the pickaxe handle from his hands.

It was then that French was joined by Fleming, who was returning from a trip to the shops, and he joined in the “savage beating”.

“These involved blows to the head and torso, with French using the handle and Fleming using his shod feet, kicking and stamping on the prostrate man,” she added.

Before the trial, French had pleaded guilty to manslaughter but had denied murdering 33-year-old Mr Tierney.

Judge Adele Williams was told the plea was not accepted by the Crown Prosecution Service and the trial went ahead.

Fleming had denied murder at an earlier hearing.

Michael Tierney, who was also known as Mikey.
Michael Tierney, who was also known as Mikey.

A 28-year-old Chatham woman has previously admitted attempting to pervert justice in relation to the case.

Kelly Wicker, of Haig Avenue, cleaned the pickaxe handle, as well as French and Fleming’s clothing in a bid to destroy the evidence.

She pleaded guilty to the charge at an earlier hearing at Canterbury Crown Court, and was remanded in custody to be sentenced alongside French and her partner, Fleming.

Kelly Wicker, was jailed for three years four months.
Kelly Wicker, was jailed for three years four months.

She was today jailed for three years, four months for her part.

Speaking after the verdict, senior investigating officer Detective Inspector Ivan Beasley paid tribute to Mr Tierney's large, close-knit family, and the community who supported them in the aftermath.

He said: "We had quite a lot of information coming to us from the local community quite quickly. We were able to recover some really key pieces of evidence, despite attempts to destroy them.

"I know the family of Michael Tierney are so grateful for the help and support of the community. It's been really traumatic for them to hear what happened to him."

Michael Tierney.
Michael Tierney.

Sentencing the two men to long jail terms, Judge Adele Williams said Michael Tierney’s murder was a brutal killing.

She told French: “On June 16 you were drunk and your aggressive and intimidating behaviour was plain for all to see on the CCTV. You pushed your way through a gate at the end of an alley – a gate erected by Mr Tierney.

“You disarmed him of that weapon (pickaxe) and, acting in anger, you launched a savage, brutal and sustained beating with the handle" - Judge Adele Williams

“You behaved in an aggressive and threatening manner towards Mr Tierney’s partner and were boasting that you were Chatham boys. Unwisely Mr Tierney went inside and armed himself with a pickaxe handle.

“You disarmed him of that weapon and, acting in anger, you launched a savage, brutal and sustained beating with the handle. You have been convicted of murder on clear and compelling evidence.

“Your cousin Fleming joined in the attack, kicking and stamping on Mr Tierney. Fleming has been convicted of manslaughter.”

Judge Williams said Mr Tierney was 33 and a loving partner, father, son and brother who had a large and supportive family.

“They feel their loss greatly,” Judge Williams added. “They describe a man full of life, love and fun who was delighted to have become a father and loved his baby daughter very much indeed. Their grief and anguish is very raw.”

Judge Adele Williams. Picture: Fiona Stapley-Harding
Judge Adele Williams. Picture: Fiona Stapley-Harding

Judge Williams told French he was an arrogant man, with an inflated sense of his own importance.

“You had behaved in an aggressive and intimidating manner in Chatham before this incident occurred and when challenged by Mr Tierney you launched this attack,” she said.

“You may never be released,” Judge Williams said.

Turning to Fleming Judge Williams said: “You are a weak man who cannot resist joining in with violence.”

Of Wicker Judge Williams told her: “You set about washing French’s clothes and bleached the weapon used in this killing. You took steps to conceal and destroy evidence and only an immediate sentence of some length can follow.”

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