THE family of a man shot dead in Ripon a year ago have welcomed the life sentence given to his killer following a retrial at Leeds Crown Court.
John Hutchison, who had claimed the shooting of Sean Webster was a tragic accident, was convicted of his murder last Thursday.
After the court case, Mr Webster’s family issued a statement through the police in which they said: ““We are pleased with the verdict.
“To lose Sean under these circumstances has been absolutely devastating for the whole family. The taking of a life so young, especially one who was the father of six, a fianc, a son and a brother was totally unnecessary.
“We would like to extend our sincere thanks to his Honour Judge Stewart, and the prosecution barristers who worked so hard to bring us justice. We would also like to thank North Yorkshire Police, especially our family liaison officers without whose help we probably wouldn’t have got through this terrible ordeal.”
Last August, at the end of a three week hearing, a judge ordered a retrial after the jury failed to reach agreement over whether 58 year Hutchison meant to shoot his friend.
Hutchison had pleaded not guilty to both murder and an alternative charge of manslaughter.
The court heard how Hutchison, of Cavendish Terrace, Ripon, shot Mr Webster in the chest soon after he was seen arguing with him in a pub and the street.
The two men had returned to Hutchison's lodgings after an agreement that Hutchison would hand over his 400 rifle in settlement of their row, but as he brought the firearm downstairs from his room he fired it at Mr Webster who slumped to the floor.
On Thursday, Hutchison was found guilty by a 10 - 2 majority of the jury of murdering 41 year old Mr Webster, of Kirkby Malzeard, on February 24 last year. He had already admitted possessing the firearm without a certificate and possessing expanding "dum-dum" ammunition illegally.
Jailing him for life, Judge James Stewart QC ordered Hutchison serve a minimum of 16 years before he could apply for parole, describing the murder as "an impetuous shooting by a man with an unpredictable and volatile nature."
He told him: "In a moment of madness you went upstairs, loaded your rifle and as he came to the bottom of the stairs you shot him."
Hutchison might not have intended to kill the other man, but that was the effect, the bullet ripped through both lobes of his right lung causing internal bleeding. "He died, if not instantly, within minutes," said the Judge.
Mr Webster had done nothing to provoke such a violent reaction.
The two men knew each other as drinking acquaintances for many years and on February 12 Hutchison was godfather to Mr Webster's baby son at a christening.
Mr Webster, who had four older children from a previous marriage, lived with his partner and their two children in Kirkby Malzeard and the christening was held at the Methodist chapel in the village followed by a family party.
Andrew Dallas, prosecuting, said afterwards Mr Webster became aware of an allegation that Hutchison had indecently touched a girl and made suggestive remarks to her and vowed to confront him about it.
There was a chance meeting between them on February 24 at the Unicorn Hotel in Ripon and their argument continued outside after they were asked to leave.
Hutchison told police Mr Webster agreed to end the matter if he gave him the .22 rifle as a peace offering. He had bought it from ‘a man off the back of a Land Rover’ for rabbiting and took him to his lodgings for it.
Hutchison's landlord, Derek Lawson, said he heard a shot and found Mr Webster at the bottom of the stairs with Hutchison walking down putting the rifle into its gun sleeve. When asked what was going on he replied: "I've shot him."
He then walked out without showing concern for the other man. The jury heard he dumped the rifle and rounds of illegal expanding ammunition over a wall before going to the Wheatsheaf pub where he was later arrested. He denied deliberately shooting Mr Webster.
Detective Chief Inspector Noel Roberts said after the verdict: "This death could so easily have been avoided. It was caused by John Hutchison's loss of control, but behind that lies an important lesson for everyone considering buying or using a gun.
“The rifle used to kill Mr Webster was one that had been stolen five years previously. Hutchison bought it from a man ‘from the back of a Land Rover’. He had no certificate to keep or use the rifle, which meant no check had been made on how he kept the gun, what he used it for, or if he was a fit person to have this deadly weapon.”
DCI Roberts added: “The type of round used is prohibited. They are forbidden because they are designed to expand on impact and cause even greater damage than a conventional bullet.”
He said people who possess or trade in firearms and ammunition without the appropriate certification are committing offences. “They are also putting into circulation something that could used in crime, but worse even than that they are endangering innocent people. Illegal weapons cost lives.”