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Robber with a troubled past' has sentence cut

PUBLISHED: 11:26 22 May 2008 | UPDATED: 14:50 25 August 2010

A TRAVELLER who wrongly spent nine years behind bars for a murder he didn t commit - and then turned to robbery and burglary when he was finally released has won an 18-month reduction in his latest jail term.

A TRAVELLER who wrongly spent nine years behind bars for a murder he didn't commit - and then turned to robbery and burglary when he was finally released has won an 18-month reduction in his latest jail term.

Billy Jo Friend, 27, from East Sussex was jailed in 1996 - when he was only 15 years old - for a murder committed by another man and not released until 2004 when his conviction was ruled "unsafe" by the Court of Appeal.

But, on release, he turned to crime and was jailed again last August, receiving 11 years at Lewes Crown Court for robbery, a series of burglaries and breach of a suspended sentence for intimidating a witness.

Last Tuesday, at the Appeal Court in London, he failed in a challenge to the robbery conviction but succeeded in having his total jail term cut to nine-and-a-half years after three top judges were told of his troubled teenage years.

Friend, then of Church Street, Erith was jailed at the Old Bailey in November 1996 after a jury convicted him of murdering Ben O'Connor, who was fatally stabbed after a party in Plumstead in August 1995.

But his conviction was quashed in October 2004 after appeal judge, Lord Justice Mance, heard that the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder then affecting him had left him incapable of giving cohesive evidence.

Slashing his sentence for his recent offences, Lord Justice Hughes said he had suffered during his teenage years, through "no fault of his own", and been released suddenly and with little preparation for civilian life.

As well as committing a string of burglaries, Friend became involved in a late-night robbery at the home of Matthew Gooch, in Hailsham, near Eastbourne during which Mr Gooch was very nearly fatally wounded.

Friend was convicted of his part in the robbery, but his accomplice, Billy Ripley, who admitted robbery, wounding and assault occasioning actual bodily harm, was sent to prison indefinitely.

Lawyers for Friend argued that, although the individual components of the 11-year term were appropriate, the overall sentence was too long.

Friend received seven years for robbery, three-and-a-half for the burglaries and had a six-month suspended sentence activated. It had been imposed for intimidating a witness.

Cutting his sentence by 18 months, Lord Justice Hughes, who sat with Mr Justice Treacy and Sir Peter Cresswell, said it was his past which justified the reduction.

He said: "It is a legitimate point to say of him that, through no fault of his own, much of his teenage upbringing was when he was imprisoned for an offence of which the conviction was subsequently quashed.

"He has had, accordingly, a pretty poor start."

Lawyers had earlier argued that the conviction for the robbery was unsafe due to an "imbalanced" summing up given by the trial judge to the jury at the end of the hearing.

But, dismissing the appeal against conviction, Lord Justice Hughes said he was "wholly satisfied" that the judge corrected any significant defects in his summing up before the jury.

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