TWO heartless friends who took a dying man’s phone as he lay unconscious in a cold, dark street have been branded “callous and despicable” and put behind bars.
Scott Stephenson and Dale Walker took away the 22-year-old victim’s only lifeline when they pocketed his iPhone and left him to die from hypothermia in a back lane in South Shields, South Tyneside, on a cold and wet night last December.
Newcastle Crown Court heard the pair had seen their victim fall after leaving a Metro train at Chichester and went back half an hour later to where he was slumped so they could take what they could get.
The engineer, who had been on a works night out, was found dead, still lying in the lane, early the next morning.
Stephenson, 19, who actually rifled through the man’s pockets, admitted theft and was jailed for two years. He has over 50 previous convictions and was on bail and a suspended sentence order at the time.
Walker, 25, who took the phone to sell on, admitted handling stolen goods, and was jailed for 10 months. He has just minor previous convictions.
Judge Robin Mairs said: “I make it clear, I cannot and do not, because the law prohibits me, deal with either of you for being the cause or contributory cause of his death or that you were aware he would die.
“However callous and despicable your behaviour was, in showing utter contempt and disregard rather than humanity for a young man, I cannot sentence you on that basis.
“In his vulnerable condition, you stole form him his sole means of communication he had with the outside world, his mobile phone, which he could used if he had woken up, to summons help.
“You increased his vulnerability in doing so.”
Family’s grief over son
The victim’s heartbroken family were in the public gallery today and his father paid tribute to their much loved and missed son.
Reading from his statement, the devastated dad said his son was “always smiling, always busy” and was known for going out of his way to help others.
He said the death has left an irreplaceable hole in the lives of his parents, two brothers and the girlfriend he had been with since childhood.
The victim, who had never been in trouble before and had a promising career after passing his apprenticeship, had been on a works night out and had been heading home when the tragedy happened.
His dad said: “I told him to phone when he was ready to come home and not to get the Metro back, he told me it would be okay.
“When we were told our son had been found deceased in South Shields our lives were torn apart. The pain and distress was unbelievable.”
The heartbroken father said the family’s already unbearable ordeal has been worsened by knowing of the “callous act” in their son in his final hours.
He added: “We all want to know what our son’s last words were, was he frightened, did he know he was dying?
“Those two stole his mobile phone, his only means of summonsing help.
“My son was killed that night, killed through hypothermia and gross negligence of these two people.
“He was lying there in the cold, what would have been obvious to any reasonable person was that, if left alone in the conditions that night, he was likely to die.”
The dad said his son had started saving for a mortgage with his girlfriend and was looking forward to a future involving marriage and children.
Fighting back tears through the entire statement, he added: “There’s not a day goes by I don’t cry for him.”
The phone, which contained the last precious pictures and memories, was never traced.
Prosecutor David Crook told the court Stephenson and Walker had been talking to the victim on the train and all three got off at the Chichester station at around 11.50pm on December 16.
His body was found at 7.34 the following morning.
When questioned, Stephenson and Walker admitted they saw the victim fall and slump against a fence in the lane.
Mr Crook added: “They say they returned some 30 minutes later. They say, to check on his welfare.
“Stephenson eventually admitted in interview to having gone through the victim’s pockets then stealing his iPhone while the victim was apparently sleeping and snoring.
“Walker accepts being present when they went back and Stephenson searched the victim. He saw the mobile phone being taken and admitted he was involved in trying to sell on the iPhone the following day.”
Thief had been living rough in Sunderland
John Wilkinson, defending, said Stephenson has been living rough on the streets of Sunderland after he admitted what he did to the dying man.
Mr Wilkinson said: “Feelings have been running pretty high in South Shields as a result of this offence, some may say rightly so, and the feelings have been
directed towards this defendant which has caused him to leave the area.”
Vic Laffey, defending Walker, said: “All he feels is remorse and regret for what has gone on.”
Judge Mairs rejected the claims the pair had gone back to help the stricken victim and said the theft was a planned one.