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9 August 2013, 12:28 | Updated: 30 March 2016, 13:50
Six young men have been convicted of crimes during a night of violence at a birthday party that ended with the death of a 16-year-old boy.
During a ten-week trial at Wolverhampton Crown Court, seven men faced charges ranging from murder through to violent disorder. An eighth man pleaded guilty to violent disorder back in March.
The case centred around violence that broke out at the Old Comrades Club in Smethwick on 27 July, 2012 − which ended with teenager, Ben Morutare, sustaining a fatal stab wound to his leg. The youngster, who was just 5ft 2ins tall, was rushed to hospital but he died a short time later.
Ben, from Walsall, had attended the birthday party earlier in the evening with teenage friends. During the course of the evening, Ben and his friends came to the attention of a group of other young men in attendance at the club.
What initially started as cross words and pushing and shoving in the foyer of the club turned into full blown violence, outside.
One of Ben’s friends was chased the length of Fenton Street and into St Pauls Road, where he was assaulted and robbed of his bag. Whilst some of the group were chasing the youngster, others turned their attention on Ben, chasing the Zimbabwe-born teen across the car park of the Asian Family Support Service and into Chatwin Street.
During an assault he sustained a stab wound to his upper thigh, which severed a main artery. The teenager ultimately bled to death.
Following today’s verdict, Detective Inspector Gary Plant from the force’s Major Investigation Review Team, paid tribute to those who came forward to help the police investigation.
"The murder of little Ben was a despicable crime with a tragic and unnecessary loss of life," he said.
"Together with his friends and hundreds of other teenagers, he attended a birthday party that was advertised via social media. As a consequence, a small minority of people singled out Ben and his friends and attacked them, all because they were not local to the area.
"The Police and Crown Prosecution team have worked tirelessly in determining who was involved and responsible for the attacks. In doing so, we have spoken with or interviewed in excess of 1000 people, many of whom were in attendance at the party.
"West Midlands Police would like to thank those members of the public who came forward to support the investigation as their cooperation has helped bring those responsible for attacking Ben and his friends to justice."
Seven weeks into the trial, Andy Ly, 18, admitted Ben’s manslaughter, whilst his co-defendant Omar Robinson, 19, pleaded guilty to violent disorder. Five further men stood trial and four were convicted of violent disorder. Tahj Mills, 19, Jordan Campbell, 18 and Tobias Blake, 20, were all found guilty this week. Blake was also convicted of possession of an offensive weapon. Dale Reid, 18, pleaded guilty to violent disorder at an earlier hearing.
An 18-year-old from Edgbaston was found not guilty of violent disorder on Thursday. A second man, aged 19, was found not guilty of violent disorder today (Friday).
All seven men will be sentenced at Wolverhampton Crown Court in due course.
DI Plant added: "Ben was a small boy who, when seen on CCTV alongside his attackers, looks like a small child by comparison. Even paramedics attending the scene initially believed he was 12 or 13.
"Ben’s grieving family have been left devastated by their loss and we hope that these verdicts offer them some comfort as they continue to mourn their son, brother and nephew.
"Participating in violent behaviour will not be tolerated by West Midlands Police or the Courts and the verdicts today sends out a clear message that if you get involved in violent crime, you will be prosecuted and face significant sentences.
"Our thoughts are with Ben and his family at this time."
Following the verdict, Ben’s mother, Grace Morutare, paid tribute to her son. She said: "You would think that with time the pain of losing our Ben would get a bit easier but it’s been the toughest time of our lives, the fact that we will never see Ben again is the most painful and unbearable thought. No family should go through what we have gone through. We will always love and miss our Ben dearly.
"We would like to thank our family liaison officer who has been there for us and West Midlands Police who worked endlessly to see justice done for our Ben."
During the case, the investigation team trawled through hours of CCTV footage from the club and surrounding area to provide evidence for the trial. Following the end of the case at court, West Midlands Police released CCTV footage and still images of the violence − including footage specially enhanced, and lightened, by the FBI which captured the moment Andy Ly attacked Ben in Chatwin Street.
DI Plant added: "The weight of evidence against these men, from witnesses and CCTV, was significant and Ben’s family have agreed to some of those shocking scenes to be shared in a bid to deter others from becoming involved in similar unnecessary violence."