Andrew Foster murder: Guilty verdicts in trial of four men accused of fatal ammonia attack

Gregg Easteal was at court as the jury returned guilty verdicts in the trial of four men accused of murdering a man who died in a chemical attack.

Four men have been found guilty of the murder of a Gateshead man who died after ammonia was sprayed in his face.

Andrew Foster, 26, was attacked at his home in Wrekenton in August 2023, causing him to suffer breathing difficulties, a heart attack and brain damage.

On Thursday 13 June, a jury returned guilty verdicts in the trial of Youssef Wynne, Josh Hawthorn, Kenneth Fawcett and John Wandless at Newcastle Crown Court.

The court was previously told that the attack on Mr Foster was one of four corrosive substance attacks to take place in the space of eleven days, connected with drug dealing across South Tyneside - which led to one woman losing an eye.

It was the prosecution's case that the group was involved in a scheme to 'tax' other drug dealers - a term which it’s claimed refers to stealing from competitors and trying to scare them off.

Andrew Foster was described by his mother Karen as a "happy, funny and loving young son". Credit: Northumbria Police

During the trial, the court heard there was a "hierarchy" within the four men.

The court was told Wynne was a drug dealer with the three other men working under him at the time.

Wynne was said to have orchestrated all of the attacks and Hawthorne, who supplied drugs for him, helped organise the fourth and fatal attack on Mr Foster.

The prosecution said neither Wynne nor Hawthorne were present at any of the attacks.

Fawcett, described in court as Wynne’s "enforcer", was physically present at the attacks and recruited Wandless, who was there at the last three attacks, the court heard.

Police tape at the scene of the ammonia attack on Andrew Foster in Wrekenton. Credit: NCJ Media

'I knew he was dead'

On day three of the trial, the jury was played a police interview with Mr Foster's girlfriend, Katie Harrison, which took place days after his death.

Ms Harrison explained she had just gone to bed when there was a knock at the door.

Seconds later, Mr Foster screamed to call an ambulance.

She said: "He was screaming and he grabbed his face, his eyes were all red and swollen. He said it’s ammonia, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe."

Ms Harrison dialled 999 and the operator instructed her to carry out CPR.

But she told police: "I knew he was dead. I could tell from his face."

Footage from Northumbria Police, shown to the court, showed Wandless and Fawcett leaving Mr Foster's home after the attack

Nicola Dixon, one of the group's attack victims, gave evidence early in the trial.

Speaking anonymously via a video link, Ms Dixon told the court in mid-May that she was at home with her boyfriend in Jarrow, on South Tyneside, on 16 August 2023.

He was recovering from surgery for a broken leg and was in plaster when two men appeared at the sitting room door, one of them carrying a hammer which he "swung" at her boyfriend, she said.

She told jurors she jumped up and grabbed the hammer, adding: "We were struggling, I was trying to get the hammer off him.

"We were struggling and then the next thing he squirted something in my face. It hit my lungs.

"I didn't know what it was but it hit my eyes."

She told the court she felt like her "lungs had been closed off", adding: "It felt like they met each other in my chest."

Ms Dixon could be heard to break down as she explained she was instantly blinded in one eye and passed out.

The court heard she underwent three operations to save her eye but they failed and her left eye had to be removed a few months later, and was replaced with a synthetic eye.

She told the court her boyfriend smokes marijuana but she does not take drugs or drink.

Ms Dixon added that she heard the intruders rooting around in the kitchen and they stole some of her boyfriend's personal-use cannabis.

Asked how long they were in the house, she said: "It felt like forever, it felt like they were there for ages. I don't know if it was five minutes or ten minutes."

Wandless was captured on CCTV footage, released by Northumbria Police, at a petrol station buying strawberry milkshakes for him and Fawcett after the attack on Mr Foster

Speaking after the trial, Andrew Foster’s mother Karen said life would “simply never be the same” following the loss of her only son.

She said: “We as a family will never get over Andrew’s death.

“To those who didn’t know Andrew, he was a practical joker, always laughing and had a heart of gold.

“I spoke to him every day, usually on video calls when he would pull funny faces just to make me laugh. He cared for his family and friends so much.

“Andrew was our only son, as well as a loving and supportive partner, grandson, nephew and cousin.

“He was particularly close to his Grandad who was very special to him."

She continued: "Andrew was the life and soul of the party, and he loved to make people laugh.

“Everyone around him was always guaranteed to have a big smile on their face. He was a big softy and loved life so much.

“He was such a happy, loving young lad who lit up the room with his energy, always had everyone laughing.

“Life will simply never be the same without him here.

“It breaks my heart that I will never get to hear him say, ‘I love you Mam’ again.

“I am hugely grateful for the support and kind wishes since Andrew passed away. It is heartening to know that he has touched so many lives and his memory will live on.

“I’d also like to thank the investigation team from Northumbria Police who have done a fantastic job to get justice for Andrew.”

'No hint of remorse'

Speaking following the convictions, Detective Inspector Tam Fowler, of Northumbria Police, said: "Our thoughts are firmly with Andrew's loved ones following his tragic death as well as the victims of everyone who was involved in this reckless spate of attacks.

"This was a shocking crime spree which saw the offenders act together, intimidating and causing serious harm to their intended targets.

"Not only did their cowardly actions lead to a young man losing his life, they also led to life-changing injuries to another woman.

"The defendants have also continued to deny the charges put to them without showing a hint of remorse.

"That meant Andrew's family and the survivors of the other attacks have had to endure a lengthy court process and subsequent trial.

"Of course, no result will ever take away the pain that their actions have caused, but I hope these guilty verdicts today give some comfort to knowing that those behind the attacks have been brought to justice."

Detective Inspector Tam Fowler said the four killers showed "no hint of remorse" for their actions throughout the trial. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

He added that the case highlighted the real harm that using corrosive substances can cause when used as a weapon.

Wynne, 39, of Wuppertal Court, Jarrow, Fawcett, 33, of Balkwell Avenue, North Shields, Wandless, 33, of no fixed address and Hawthorn, 22, of Ashfield, of Jarrow, were found guilty of murder.

The defendants were also found guilty of robbery, relating to the stealing of cannabis edibles, after Mr Foster had allegedly been attacked.

Wynne was found guilty of actual bodily harm on Mr Foster 11 months before he died in a dispute over drugs.

Wynne, Fawcett and Wandless were found guilty of causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Nicola Dixon.

Wynne and Fawcett were found guilty of attempting to cause GBH with intent on a man on 9 August 2023.

Wynne, Fawcett and Wandless were found guilty of attempting to cause GBH with intent on another man on 12 August.

Wandless had previously pleaded guilty to handling a stolen VW Golf and arson by burning it out after it was allegedly used in three of the incidents.

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