Two men who murdered the barman Jody Dobrowski in a homophobic attack on Clapham Common, south London, were jailed for life yesterday and told that it would be at least 28 years before they would be considered for parole.
Scott Walker, 33, and Thomas Pickford, 25, attacked their 24-year-old victim, jumping on him and stamping on his head "as if trying to kill an animal", the court heard. Inflicting 33 visible injuries, they shouted "fucking queer, bastard, faggot and poof" and "showed no mercy". It was Mr Dobrowski's "tragic misfortune" to cross their path. The pair had only one intention that evening, and it was to attack a gay man.
The common serjeant of London, Judge Brian Barker, told them: "I am quite satisfied from what I have heard that aggression was uppermost in your mind. Your target was those that were gay and vulnerable. You can only have had one intention when you went to the wood in Clapham Common and that was to engage in homophobic thuggery."
They had damaged the lives of those who loved Mr Dobrowski and destroyed their own lives. "You have done this to yourselves," the judge said. "You were both principals and you both bear equal responsibility for the death. Once things had started, there clearly was an intention to kill." Their guilty pleas had been taken into account in the sentencing, but so too was the physical suffering inflicted on their victim. The judge increased the minimum term to reflect the way in which the killing was aggravated by homophobia.
Mr Dobrowski's family and friends packed the courtroom at the Old Bailey, each wearing a sunflower in his memory. As the sentences were passed his mother Sheri shouted "woo hoo" and the public gallery erupted in applause. Earlier they had snorted in derision as counsel for Walker tried to express his client's sorrow for the killing.
In a statement outside court, Mrs Dobrowski said: "In a free and democratic society, Jody's murder was an outrage. It was a political act. It was an act of terrorism. Jody was not the first man to be killed, or terrorised, or beaten or humiliated for being homosexual - or for being perceived to be homosexual. Tragically, he will not be the last man to suffer the consequences of homophobia, which is endemic in this society. This is unacceptable. We cannot accept this. No intelligent, healthy or reasonable society could."
She thanked witnesses - whose anonymity has been protected for life by the court - for their courage in speaking out in the case. She also paid tribute to her son for "his strength in the face of cowardice. For struggling to become who he was - an intelligent, funny, hardworking and beautiful man, whose life was brutally and mercilessly punched and kicked from him. Who fought for some hours to stay with us. And whose big dancing feet left behind such gentle footprints on this earth."
Detective Chief Inspector Nick Scola, who led the police investigation, said: "I hope today's sentences will send out a strong message that crimes such as these will be dealt with robustly by the courts and will always be vigorously investigated by police." The court heard that Walker had been released on licence after serving half of a 15-month sentence for assaulting his mother and making threats to kill: he punched her and bit her on the nose, before trying to strangle her. He carried out another homophobic attack with Pickford while still on licence but the licence expired on the day before Mr Dobrowski's murder. The Dobrowski family said there were issues to do with the supervision of people on licence but the responsibility for Mr Dobrowski's death rested with two people: Walker and Pickford