£10 drug debt killer gets life

Christopher Horn has been jailed for life for the murder of Neil Bennett Photo: Gloucester Police

A drug dealer has been jailed for life for chasing a man across a park in Gloucester and murdering him - over a 10 pound drug debt.

Neil Bennett, 50, was stabbed once in the back during an argument with Christopher Horn, 30, over a mephedrone deal - known as MCAT or Meow Meow - before being fatally knifed in the chest.

Horn, of Denmark Road, Gloucester, was convicted by a jury at Bristol Crown Court of murder and wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

Co-accused Ricky James, 34, and Lucy Dowdall, 20, of Spa Villas, Montpellier, Gloucester, and Tyler Johnson, 26, of no fixed address, were acquitted of both charges and lesser alternatives.

Neil Bennett died in Gloucester in July last year Credit: ITV News

Mr Bennett died shortly after being knifed twice during the dispute in the centre of Gloucester on the evening of July 27 last year.

Prosecutors alleged that Horn - who took drugs as well as sold them - delivered the fatal blow having been egged on by Dowdall - with all four acting "jointly" to murder Mr Bennett.

The court heard that Mr Bennett and a friend had gone to Spa Villas where three of the defendants lived to buy drugs from dealer Horn at 7.10pm.

Less than an hour later, he had been fatally knifed having been chased through Gloucester Park, which is close to the flat on Spa Villas, where James, Dowdall and Horn lived.

CCTV images show Mr Bennett brandishing a pair of tweezers or a small knife towards the defendants.

At one point, Horn bared his chest and invited Mr Bennett to stab him. Witnesses later described seeing Horn and Mr Bennett fighting.

After being stabbed in the back Mr Bennett was shouting and threatening to return "with his boys", the court heard.

He ran away across the park, followed by the four defendants, where he was stabbed a second time by Horn with a knife taken from the flat's kitchen.

Onlookers who rushed to the aid of Mr Bennett thought he had been in collision with a car as he was lying in the road.

But security guard Mark Newman spotted the blade of a knife with no handle sticking through Mr Bennett's leather jacket.

The knife had pierced Mr Bennett's heart and he died despite the efforts of Mr Newman and subsequent medical treatments.

Giuseppina Silvio, defending Horn, said that he was estranged from his young son.

"That relationship has completely broken down and when he is released from prison he will be a middle-aged man and any chance he will have of finding his son and rekindling that relationship will be gone," she added.

Mr Justice Dingemans jailed Horn for life and told him he would serve a minimum term of 25 years' imprisonment before he could be considered for parole.

"It is only fair to you to record that Mr Bennett had not lived a blameless life and Mr Bennett's criminal record was put in evidence in the trial," he said.

"At the time of the offence Mr Bennett was partly dependent on drugs and the evidence shows that he owed Mr Horn either some #10 or some #30 for unpaid drug debts; you being a drug dealer.

"The sad truth is that to persons who are dependent on drugs, #10 or #30 if that is what it was, is sufficient reason for them to shout at each other, to show knives and threaten each other, to cause terror to members of the public and then to use fatal violence."

Mr Justice Dingemans said he was satisfied Horn had intended to kill Mr Bennett once he started chasing him across the park.

"There is evidence that you were fed up of people taking advantage of you and not paying for drugs and had been made to look silly in the flat when threatened by Mr Bennett," he said.

"You have been a user of Class A drugs since aged 18. Although you married and worked for a period of time, your drug use started again, your marriage broke down and you became addicted to drugs again.

"After your release from prison you obtained work as a decorator but lost that towards the end of 2012 and had relapsed into drug taking and then drug dealing to feed your drug taking.

"There was in this case the tragedy of Mr Bennett's death and its effects on his family and friends.

"Another feature is that there is no doubt that if you had been able to stay away from drugs you might have been a working and useful member of society."

The judge also imposed a concurrent 12-year sentence for the wounding charge.

This was a violent attack which left a family without a son, brother and uncle and our thoughts are with Neil Bennett's family at this time.

"I understand that this crime was very disturbing for the wider community at the time, but although crimes of this nature do happen they are rare in Gloucestershire.

"In this case the victim and his killer were known to each other and the underlying issue of drugs was also an aggravating factor. If you live, work or socialise in Gloucester, you should not be unduly worried about your safety."

– Detective Inspector Ian Ginn, Gloucestershire Police