Racist thugs face 30 years in prison for axe murder

THE two men who murdered black teenager Anthony Walker were last night each facing up to 30 years in jail after the trial judge ruled the killing was racially motivated, effectively doubling the time they will serve.

Mr Justice Leveson said he believed that Michael Barton and Paul Taylor attacked 18-year-old Anthony with an ice-axe in July because of the colour of his skin.

The men, the brother and cousin of Manchester City footballer Joey Barton, will each be jailed for life today, after a jury found Michael Barton guilty of murder. Taylor had already admitted the murder.

But the judge's conclusion that Taylor and Barton were motivated by racial hatred means that the tariff on the automatic life sentence all murderers receive will be doubled. The tariff - the length of time they should serve - for a racially aggravated murder is 30 years, although that figure is likely to fall following mitigation by the men's lawyers.

The pair ambushed Anthony in a park in Huyton, Merseyside, on 29 July. Taylor swung an ice-axe at the teenager with such force that its wide end smashed through his skull and was embedded in his brain.

Barton was found guilty of murder on the grounds that he started the confrontation with Anthony - who had walked away without retaliating - and supplied the murder weapon.

Yesterday, Gee Walker, the mother of the murdered teenager, said she must forgive his killers.

Mrs Walker, 49, like her murdered son a devout Christian, said outside court: "At the point of death, Jesus said 'I forgive them for they know not what they do'. I have got to forgive them. My family and I still stand by what I believe - forgiveness. It will be difficult, but we have got no choice but to live on for Anthony."

Anthony's cousin, Daniel Okoro, said the family was satisfied with the verdict but was not celebrating.

"We have no reason to be jubilant, because that will not bring Anthony back," he said. He also said he believed that there were others involved in the killing who were still at large.

Detective Chief Superintendent Peter Currie, who led the investigation, said he had always been convinced that Anthony Walker died because of the colour of his skin.

"Anthony was a young man with his girlfriend and cousin minding their own business, doing absolutely nothing wrong, subjected to a torrent of racist abuse, so they went to another bus stop," he said. "Everything they did was right, but it ultimately turned out wrong. It is beyond belief."

Senseless death of young man echoes Lawrence attack

ANTHONY Walker wanted to be a lawyer, maybe a judge. He loved God, worked hard at his studies, practised his basketball skills whenever he could, though not on a Sunday if it clashed with church.

Paul Taylor and Michael Barton revelled in the nicknames Chomper and Ozzy. One wanted to be a burglar, the other wanted to join the army, but was too stupid to pass the exams. They spent their time hanging around, smoking cannabis and, in the words of one, "going out robbing".

Taylor and Barton are white. Anthony was black. When their paths crossed, it was that alone that cost him his life.

The 18-year-old died as a result of a single blow to the head with an ice axe on 29 July this year. The judge at Taylor and Barton's trial was in no doubt that the motive was purely racist.

Anthony had been waiting with his cousin and his cousin's girlfriend at a bus stop in the Huyton area of Liverpool. Taylor and Barton were standing outside the nearby Huyton Park pub. Barton began to hurl racist abuse at Anthony. Anthony would not rise to it. He told Barton they were simply waiting for a bus and would soon be gone. Barton told him: "Walk, nigger, walk".

So the three friends did just that, walked away to look for another bus stop. They took a short cut across a park, but Barton and Taylor were lying in wait. Taylor struck the fatal blow, but the axe belonged to Barton. The axe went through Anthony's skull and into his brain. He died five hours later in hospital.

It is hard not to see in his death echoes of the murder of Stephen Lawrence in south-east London in 1993. Both were black, both were 18, both died at the hands of racists attackers while waiting with friends at bus stops. Both were ambitious young men looking forward to making their way in society.

Anthony's mother, Gee, certainly recognised the similarities. The day after Anthony died, she said: "This is on a level with the Stephen Lawrence case. My son was killed purely because of the colour of his skin. We cannot change our colour."

Nor did it escape the notice of Stephen's mother, Doreen Lawrence. She was so incensed by Anthony's killing that she travelled to Merseyside to lend her support. Visiting the shrine left at the scene, she asked: "How many young people have to die before society sees and makes changes?"

Outside court David Okoro, Anthony's cousin, mourned a young man who had everything to live for. The murder, he said, had subjected the family to a living nightmare.

"Anthony posed no threat to these people," he said. "They chose to kill him purely because of the colour of his skin."

Anthony could hardly have been more different to the men who killed him. He spent his days working hard to gain the A-levels he needed for university and devoted most of his free time to basketball and his Christian faith, although when he declined an invitation to trials for the England basketball team because they fell on a Sunday, it was clear which he valued most. Devoted to his family - particularly his mother, his four sisters and one younger brother - he effectively became the man about the house, after his parents separated more than a decade ago.

His maturity did not extinguish the exuberance of youth, however, and his family and friends recall an accident-prone teenager whose constant basketball dribbling meant that picture frames and fragile ornaments did not last long.

"He loved basketball," his mother said yesterday. "If you come into my house, you'll see that most of the pictures are in frames, but with no glass in them, because he would bounce the ball in the house. He knew he shouldn't, but he would bounce that ball!"

Taylor and Barton, cousins, grew up in the same area as Anthony. They were members of large, well-known families entrenched on the sprawling council estates of Huyton.

Taylor, 20, was expelled from school and has nine previous convictions dating back to 1999. With a reputation for violence, he was once seen brandishing a hunting knife in the Huyton Park pub and boasting "someone's going to get this tonight".

Weeks later, he was thrown out of the same pub for wielding a canister of CS gas.

His chosen career was burglary, and he regularly targeted the hotels of North Wales to steal safes and other valuables.

Barton, who left school at 14, wanted to join the army but failed the entrance exam - scoring just 19 per cent when the minimum pass mark was 50 per cent. He tried his hand at roofing and forklift truck driving, but failed to hold down a steady job. Instead, he chose to follow Taylor's career path and became an accomplice in his burglaries, for which he earned about 100 a time.

The pair were planning to go out stealing on the night of Anthony's murder, and that lunchtime they had tried to break into a house in nearby Rainhill to steal a quad bike. When they saw a man waiting for a bus nearby, Taylor threatened him, despite the fact that he was wearing a neck brace and was with his two-year-old son.

After the killing, Barton and Taylor found funds and a car to take them to Dover, from where they sailed to France, then drove to Amsterdam. Five days later they returned, voluntarily, to surrender. Both had been due to stand trial, but at the last minute Taylor pled guilty. Barton, however, brazened it out, initially blaming Anthony's cousin for starting a fight and then denying any part in the killing.

It was to no avail. The jury of seven women and five men deliberated for just over seven hours before returning a unanimous guilty verdict.

Yesterday, Gee Walker sat down with Anthony's 20-year-old sister Dominique in a coffee room at the Grace Family Church, in Liverpool, where the Walkers worship and where Anthony was a youth leader, to look back over his life. They sat close together, holding each other's hands and clutching a tissue. They cried, but also smiled and laughed, particularly when recalling Anthony's humour and love of sport and music.

Anthony was the joker of the pack, they agreed, the one who would put the funny side of things. But he was going places too, they said. He knew exactly what he wanted to be. He was his own person. He knew he wanted to be a lawyer. They didn't think anything would stop him. He had seen the black judges in the US and said he'd be one too.

He was in training to be a good man, his mother said, so when it came to making decisions in the home, they made them together. She was preparing him to be a good husband and father, and he would have been, she said, and now that was gone; it had all been taken away from them, and she didn't understand why, or what they should do now.

"For instance, he would wash up on a Tuesday, he was one of the few who would commit himself to that chore," she said. "On Tuesday nights now, nobody can wash up. He would mow the lawn on a Thursday. Now, none of us can mow the lawn.

"There is just this massive absence in the house, this massive long pause. And we think, 'when is this going to end?' I go in the kitchen and I still make his tea.

"I'm counting out the potatoes, one, two, three, and I'm still putting a potato in for him. I still put an extra meal aside which no-one will touch. No-one dares to say who it belongs to. We'll never get over this. Someone has taken a piece of my heart. How do you mend a broken heart?"