Josh Hirst killer has sentence appeal rejected

VICTIM Josh Hirst
VICTIM Josh Hirst

A killer jailed for knifing a Mirfield man to death outside his home last summer can have no complaint about his sentence, a court has ruled.

Joe Norcliffe Church, 22 - part of the self-styled ‘London Parkers’ gang - wore a balaclava and gloves as he cut the throat of 20-year-old Joshua Hirst in an alley close to the victim’s home on Grove Street.

Joe Church

Joe Church

Church, of Redlands Close, Mirfield, was handed a life sentence - with a minimum of 25 years to serve - after he was convicted of murder at Leeds Crown Court alongside Aaron Smith, 19, of Saville Street, Emley, in February.

Today, three of the country’s most senior judges, sitting at London’s Appeal Court, rejected a bid by the killer to have his minimum jail term cut.

Mrs Justice Patterson said Church and Smith followed Mr Hirst in a car as he drove home from celebrating his girlfriend’s birthday with her family in August, last year.

Disguised in balaclavas and gloves, they chased him into an alley metres from his home and attacked him with a knife over a grievance they thought existed between him and their gang.

They cut Mr Hirst’s throat, severing his carotid artery, and stabbed him before making their escape in a waiting car, the judge added.

Mr Hirst staggered home and his family tried to stop the bleeding but, by the time the emergency services arrived, there was nothing they could do, the appeal judge added.

Church contacted his then-girlfriend, Kirstie Rainsford, minutes after the attack and she supplied him with a change of clothes and tried to help him escape. She was later jailed for 21 months, after admitting three counts of assisting an offender.

Church and Smith were arrested after another accomplice they had convinced to dispose of the weapon and other incriminating items felt guilty and telephoned police, the judge added.

They denied killing Mr Hirst but were found guilty after a four-week trial, although the judge accepted neither man had intended to kill their victim. Judge Peter Collier QC, the Recorder of Leeds, handed Church a 25-year minimum jail term, while Smith was ordered to serve at least 22 years - with both sentences reduced by 197 days for time they had spent on remand.

Challenging his punishment, Church argued that Judge Collier ought to have set it closer to 20 years to reflect his lack of murderous intent and his youth.

But Mrs Justice Patterson, sitting with Lord Justice McCombe and Mr Justice Wyn Williams, concluded: “It cannot be said that the sentence is manifestly excessive. This application is refused.”