The widow of a church organist who was battered to death as he walked to a Christmas Eve service said she rejected “feelings of hate and unforgiveness” after a man was convicted of killing her husband.
Maureen Greaves sobbed in the public gallery at Sheffield Crown Court after unemployed father-of-two Ashley Foster, 22, was found guilty of the manslaughter of Alan Greaves, 68.
Devout Christian Mr Greaves suffered head injuries when he was attacked in the High Green area of Sheffield on his way to midnight mass at St Saviour’s Church. He died in hospital three days later.
There were dramatic scenes in court yesterday after a jury foreman returned a not guilty verdict to the charge of murder Foster was facing. The defendant’s family celebrated, and Mrs Greaves looked confused as barristers and the judge prepared to move on to the next part of the proceedings.
However, the atmosphere changed suddenly when the woman foreman shouted “but guilty to manslaughter” over the noise from the gallery. At that point Foster’s girlfriend and mother of his two young children, Natalie Evers, burst into tears and ran from the court.
Another man, Jonathan Bowling, also 22, had admitted murdering Mr Greaves, a grandfather. Bowling, who was standing in the dock, put his head in his hands.
As the judge clarified the verdict with the jury, Mrs Greaves, 63, also collapsed in tears and was comforted by members of her family and church who supported her through a trial lasting more than three weeks.
Foster and Bowling are due to be sentenced today.
During Foster’s trial, prosecutors described how father-of-four Mr Greaves was severely beaten with a pick-axe handle and another weapon that has never been found, possibly a hammer.
Foster and Bowling had left a gathering on Christmas Eve last year. According to prosecutors they were stalking the streets of High Green looking for someone to attack. If they had not killed Mr Greaves, it would have been someone else, the jury was told. Senior police officers said yesterday the pair was out “looking for trouble”.
Detective Superintendent Matt Fenwick, who led the murder inquiry, said Mr Greaves only came into Bowling and Foster’s path because he was cold and had gone back to his house for his hat, delaying his walk to church by a few minutes.
Speaking outside court yesterday, Mrs Greaves said: “Alan was a man driven by love and compassion and he would not want any of us to hold on to feelings of hate and unforgiveness.
“So, in honour of Alan and in honour of the God we both love, my prayer is that this story doesn’t end today.
“My prayer is that Jonathan Bowling and Ashley Foster will come to understand and experience the love and kindness of the God who made him in his own image and that God’s great mercy will inspire them to true repentance.”
Mrs Greaves added: “I believe that justice was done for the actions taken that resulted in the murder of an innocent man.
“Society needs protecting from people who do such evil acts. I am greatly satisfied and relieved by the result of the court today, however no sentence will bring Alan back. Alan was a wonderful man who is so dearly missed. Our lives will never be the same again.”