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How park row over dog mess led to ‘much loved’ man being beaten to death by teenage gang

John Hackett was bullied and attacked in a ‘mindless act of violence’, his loved ones said  (Warwickshire Police)
John Hackett was bullied and attacked in a ‘mindless act of violence’, his loved ones said (Warwickshire Police)

An altercation over dog mess in a park led to a vicious attack and a “much loved” man’s death at the hands of a teenage gang.

John Hackett, 36 – a beloved son, brother, nephew and cousin – would walk his dog at a park in Warwickshire after work every day.

It was on one of those daily walks that he was fatally attacked by three teenagers in April last year, while the rest of the gang of 12 watched on and filmed the violence for their “entertainment”.

The 16-year-old girl and two boys, aged 15 and 16, who cannot be identified because of their age, admitted manslaughter and were all handed detention and training orders, which are custodial sentences, by Mr Justice Choudhury KC at Warwick Crown Court in Leamington Spa on Thursday.

Detective Chief Inspector Collette O’Keefe, from the Warwickshire Police Major Investigation Unit, told The Independent the “haunting” footage of Mr Hackett pleading, surrounded by screaming and shouting, “will stay with me” as she issued a warning over young people’s social media use.

“It’s horrific,” she said. “Rather than filming they should have been intervening and preventing what happened – perhaps John would have been here to tell the tale.”

Instead, Mr Hackett limped home from Snowhill Recreation Ground on the evening of 25 April, with DCI O’Keefe describing him as the “walking wounded”.

The following morning, his body was discovered by his devastated mother at the top of the stairs in the house on Camp Hill Road in Nuneaton that they shared. Mr Hackett was pronounced dead by emergency services at 8am, with the three offenders arrested later that day.

John Hackett, 36 – a beloved son, brother, nephew and cousin – would walk his dog at a park in Warwickshire after work every day (Warwickshire Police)
John Hackett, 36 – a beloved son, brother, nephew and cousin – would walk his dog at a park in Warwickshire after work every day (Warwickshire Police)

The police officer believes the senseless death was tragically unintended and unplanned.

She said: “It never needed to get to that level. It was anti-social behaviour that ultimately escalated over a period of weeks... The people involved did it for their own entertainment. I don’t think for one minute they thought John was going to die.”

She explained the killing shockingly originated in one occasion when Mr Hackett did not pick up his dog’s mess. The teenagers began verbally abusing him and calling him names in relation to that incident, with his family describing how he was “bullied and tormented” over the following weeks.

The police officer suspected Mr Hackett was an “easy target” as he would reliably walk his dog every day after work, so the offenders were aware of his routine. He also “looked different”, with long hair and clothes unlike what the defendants would wear.

She said Mr Hackett retaliated to the verbal abuse on the day he was attacked, likely out of frustration. “That was the green light to that group to go in and attack him,” she said. Evidence from the teenagers’ mobile phones suggested the group had planned to verbally abuse him but not to physically attack him.

After being alerted by Mr Hackett and a member of the public, police attended the scene and spoke to the three attackers who all claimed they were acting in self-defence. The officers then went to Mr Hackett’s house where they found him in considerable distress, having suffered injuries to his head and chest, and rushed him to hospital. However, he discharged himself two hours later and went back home, where he collapsed the following morning.

John Hackett (pictured as a child) was beaten to the point that a Home Office postmortem found he had died from abdominal injuries so severe that they were described as the equivalent of him having been in a car crash (Warwickshire Police)
John Hackett (pictured as a child) was beaten to the point that a Home Office postmortem found he had died from abdominal injuries so severe that they were described as the equivalent of him having been in a car crash (Warwickshire Police)

Mr Hackett was beaten to the point that a Home Office postmortem found he had died from abdominal injuries so severe that they were described as the equivalent of him having been in a car crash.

In a victim impact statement read to the court on Thursday, Mr Hackett’s mother Christine Smith said of the death of her son: “I wish to state that it has ruined my life and put me through hell.”

Nine teenagers had watched on, some of whom filmed the violence, later sharing the footage on social media. The girl defendant was among those videoing the attack before she joined in. The harrowing clip was circulated widely, with police warning the public to not share it.

DCI O’Keefe blamed the influence of social media at least partially for the incident, pointing to the subsequent widespread circulation of the violence on platforms, as well as the “densensitisation” that social media can trigger in people.

Mr Hackett limped home from Snowhill Recreation Ground on the evening of 25 April, with DCI O’Keefe describing him as the ‘walking wounded’ (Google Maps)
Mr Hackett limped home from Snowhill Recreation Ground on the evening of 25 April, with DCI O’Keefe describing him as the ‘walking wounded’ (Google Maps)

“The level of violence shown by these offenders was truly shocking and Mr Hackett must have been terrified throughout,” DCI O’Keefe said. “Our thoughts are with his family who have understandably been left devastated by his death.

“This incident should serve as a warning to people – violence has consequences, and sometimes those consequences can be tragic. These three young people may not have intended to kill Mr Hackett, but that is ultimately what happened, and like Mr Hackett’s family, they will live with the consequences of their actions for the rest of their lives.

“No outcome can ever change what has happened, but I hope Mr Hackett’s family can now start to rebuild their lives after such a terrible ordeal.”

Paying tribute to Mr Hackett following the sentencing, his family said in a statement: “We are devasted by John’s passing. We have lost a much-loved son, brother, nephew and cousin, taken from us because of a mindless act of violence. John was bullied and tormented for weeks leading to his tragic death. There isn’t a day goes by without us thinking of John and what he went through.

“We will never be able to forgive those involved.”

The 16-year-old girl, from the Nuneaton area, was handed an 18-month sentence, while the 15-year-old boy, from Willencote, Staffordshire, was sentenced to two years, and the 16-year-old boy, from Nuneaton, was handed a two-year sentence.