A man who battered a church organist to death as he walked to Midnight Mass has been jailed for a minimum of 25 years by a judge, who told him: "Why you wished to inflict violence on another human being on Christmas Eve is known only to you."
Mr Justice Teare made the comments at Sheffield Crown Court as he sentenced Jonathan Bowling to life in prison for the murder of lay preacher Alan Greaves, 68.
Bowling, 22, battered devout Christian Mr Greaves around the head with a pick-axe handle as the pensioner walked to play the organ for Midnight Mass at St Saviour's Church in High Green, Sheffield, on December 24 last year. The father of four suffered catastrophic head injuries and died three days later in hospital.
Another man, Ashley Foster, 22, was found guilty on Thursday of Mr Greaves's manslaughter and was jailed for nine years.
The judge told Bowling and Foster: "Why you wished to inflict violence on another human being on Christmas Eve is known only to you. But you did it. You chose your victim at random. Alan Greaves happened to be in front of you, on his way to serve the community, as he had always done, and you decided to inflict violence on him."
The judge said the attack took place on Christmas Eve "on what is usually one of the happiest days of the year". He said: "Neither of you knew Alan Greaves. He had done nothing to provoke the attack on him. He was merely walking to church to help his local community celebrate Christmas. His wife, his family and his community have suffered a tragic and horrendous loss." There was no repeat of the dramatic scene seen in court after Thursday's manslaughter verdict on Foster. Bowling, of Pitsmoor, Sheffield, had admitted murder at a previous hearing.
Mr Greaves's widow, Maureen, said she was "happy" with the sentences. Outside court, she said: "I really am extremely pleased with the result today. To think Ashley's got nine years is the very best we could have got in the circumstances of the manslaughter. To think that Jonathan's got 25 minimum and to think he'll probably never come out, I really am wonderfully pleased with the result." She told reporters she would not read a letter Bowling had written to her. "To put it into my hands the day he was going to get sentenced, I didn't think it was very appropriate," she said. "If he was going to write me a letter he should have written it a long time ago." Mrs Greaves said she had given the letter to Detective Superintendent Matt Fenwick, of South Yorkshire Police, to look after in case she changes her mind.
The judge said it was Bowling who inflicted all the blows on Mr Greaves, leaving him with head injuries normally seen in people involved in serious car crashes or falls from great heights. He said he accepted, from the jury's manslaughter conviction, that Foster did not take part in the attack physically and he accepted the pick-axe handle was the only weapon used.
The court heard how Bowling has a number of convictions for violence dating back to his teens. In 2005 he head-butted a 48-year-woman after she complained about him throwing snowballs at her windows. A year later, when he was 15, he was given a two-year detention order after he attacked a jogger in Chapeltown, Sheffield, leaving his victim with serious head injuries, including a suspected broken cheekbone. Bowling was then convicted for brandishing a hammer when a police officer stopped him then threatening a woman with a hammer in a separate incident. In 2008 he and a girl pinned a 14-year-old boy to the floor before he kicked and punched the teenager in the ribs. The court heard he had served a number of detention orders in relation to these offences.
Foster, of Wesley Road, High Green, had no previous convictions for violence. Foster and Bowling, who were both unemployed, had known each other since their early teens when Bowling's father was in a relationship with Foster's mother. They have been described as stepbrothers.