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Mother sobs as youths are cleared of her son’s murder

PUBLISHED: 11:47 09 July 2009 | UPDATED: 16:55 25 August 2010

TWO teenagers have been cleared of stabbing a schoolboy to death in a gang turf war. The mother of slain Ben Hitchcock, who was knifed in the back during a brawl involving up to 60 youths armed with knives, bottles and sticks, slumped in the public galle

TWO teenagers have been cleared of stabbing a schoolboy to death in a gang turf war.

The mother of slain Ben Hitchcock, who was knifed in the back during a brawl involving up to 60 youths armed with knives, bottles and sticks, slumped in the public gallery and wept as a verdict of not guilty was returned for Andre Lawrence-Bennett, 18, and Mitchell Elliot, 19.

The duo were accused of murder of the 16-year-old of Blean Grove, Penge, during the battle between Bromley's 'Green borough' group and Lewisham's 'Blue borough' outside a house party in Beckenham.

Police turned up at the scene in Southend Road just minutes before the killing, but left after telling the youths they were not a 'taxi service', according to witnesses.

Ben, who stood out because he was white and armed with a stick, was targeted by at least three youths while shocked residents looked on in horror.

He was heard shouting: "What have I done, why are you doing this to me?" before collapsing with the fatal wound to his kidney.

Within hours rival gang members were boasting to Ben's friends: "We have killed one of your boys. I hope your boy is still lying in the bush half dead."

But witnesses gave conflicting evidence about the killer and there was a dispute over whether he was riding a bicycle or not.

After a five-week trial at the Old Bailey, a jury cleared both Lawrence-Bennett, of Brownhill Road, Hither Green and Mitchell Elliot, of Howerd Way, Woolwich, of murder.

As Ben's mother Lee sobbed when the verdict was returned, there were gasps of relief and the words 'thank you' from relatives of the defendants in the public gallery.

The Old Bailey heard Ben, nicknamed Swipe, tried to gatecrash a party with his friends in Copers Cope Road near Beckenham High Street on June 23, 2007. Taunts and threats flew between their group and rivals from the 'Blue Borough' gang, but they were dispersed by police.

Later, Ben and the Penge Boys were on a number 54 bus when they saw a small group of Lewisham youths and got off to have a fight.

Minutes later a larger group arrived, armed with weapons including belts and weightlifting equipment. Ben suffered a five inch wound to the back which cut into the left kidney and the renal artery causing heavy bleeding.

Olatunji Ololu, 18, of Firhill Rd, Lower Sydenham, was cleared of murder at the close of the prosecution case.

Royston Thomas, 19, of Hazel Grove, Lower Sydenham, may face trial at a later date.


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