Man Convicted Of Killing New Stevenage Dad

3 October 2014, 16:15 | Updated: 3 October 2014, 16:33

A 33 year-old man's been convicted today of shooting dead a 21 year-old Stevenage man - who had just days before become a dad.

John "Boy" Ward and his family had been in a fatal feud with 21 year-old Thomas Ward's family for years.

The jury at St Albans Crown Court heard John Boy had issued a simple but chilling warning on the phone in 2011 to Thomas saying "It's me, your enemy, I'm going to wait until you are at your happiest - then I'm going to get you."

Two years after receiving the warning, Thomas Ward told family and friends in April 2013 that he had never been happier when his young wife gave birth to their baby daughter.

But just hours after a picture was taken of Thomas tenderly cradling his new born baby daughter in his arms, the 21 year-old was shot dead - murdered by the man who had made the threat in 2011.

John 'Boy' Ward had kept to his word, killing Thomas just five days after the birth of his baby daughter, Lily.

Today John 'Boy' Ward, 33, was convicted by a jury of the murder of Thomas.

Sentence was adjourned, but he will be given a life sentence by Judge Andrew Bright QC, who will also tell him on the next occasion how many years he will have to spend behind bars before he can be considered for release.

Thomas's funeral last year was seen on a spin off programme of Channel 4's 'My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.'

During the trial the jury heard Thomas was killed because of a vicious and bitter gypsy blood feud that had split the Ward family in two and stretched back nearly 30 years.

The feud had begun when Thomas's father, James 'Young Fox' Ward was held responsible by some members of the family for the death in 1987 of his cousin Micky Ward who died in a car crash.

Six years later Fox Ward had shot dead Micky's brother 'Bimbo' Ward and, after going on the run, was eventually jailed for Bimbo's manslaughter at the Old Bailey.

It was against this background that the younger brother of the dead men, John 'Boy' decided he would murder Fox Ward's son Thomas in an act of sickening revenge.

Thomas hadn't even been born when the feud began.

But it didn't matter to John Boy Ward, who was eaten up with hatred over the deaths of his brothers.

As prosecutor John Price QC put it "To John 'Boy' Ward, it was immaterial. Thomas Ward shared the sins of his father."

It was another cousin of Thomas, James Dundon, who had overheard the chilling phone call from John 'Boy' Ward in 2011.

He had been a passenger in Thomas's BMW when the call came through via the vehicle Bluetooth system and he could hear every word.

Mr Dundon said his cousin offered John 'Boy' Ward a "fair fight," who then replied "No that's not good enough for me, I am coming to get you when you are at your happiest."   

Late on the night of April 23 last year as Thomas, his wife Theresa and five day old baby Lily slept in the caravan home in Dyes lane on the edge of Stevenage, Herts., they were woken by the smashing of a window.

Thomas opened the door with just a piece of kitchen cutlery for protection.  Three masked men were standing there, one armed with a 12 gauge shotgun.

With his wife standing behind him Thomas was shot in the chest and died less than an hour later in hospital. Mr Price told the jury "Thomas Ward was the victim of an execution."

Following the shooting John 'Boy' Ward, who lived in Clarkson Court in Hatfield, used a fake passport to travel on Eurostar to Brussels.

His wife Joeleen, who was five months pregnant, then flew out from East Midlands Airport to meet him in Paris.  They went on the run, travelling around France and Spain before settling in Helsingor in Denmark.

Giving evidence during his trial, John 'Boy' Ward said he had panicked and fled after the shooting because he knew he would be blamed.  He said he was scared to return to the UK because he'd heard there was a £100,000 'contract' out on him.

"I heard there was a contract put on my head. £50,000 to find where I was and £50,000 to kill me."

Joeleen Ward, 22 who was also on trial with her husband accused of helping him to escape, said her child had been born while they were on the run together in Europe.

In the witness box she sobbed and she spoke of her fears for her son's future safety because of the family feud.

"I'm still scared for my son growing up," she told the jury.  She was found guilty of a charge of assisting her husband to flee the country, following the shooting, and she will be sentenced in November after reports have been prepared.   

John 'Boy' Ward's brother, Francis Ward, 36, and his sister Winifred, 47, also pleaded not guilty to assisting his escape from the UK.  Francis, of Stable Way in Kensington was convicted of assisting an offender and his sister of Cambridge Road in Hounslow was convicted of an identical charge.

They, too, will be sentenced with Joelene in November.

During the trial the court heard that after James 'Young Fox' Ward's release from prison in 2001 for the manslaughter of Bimbo, he had been forced to move his family, including the young Thomas, to Holland, Belgium and Germany for their safety.

In the witness box the father said he had advised his son not to live at the Dyes Lane caravan site because it was too close to where John 'Boy' Ward was living in Hatfield.  "I told Thomas he was too close to John Boy. He told me I'm not scared of him."

Three days after the murder of Thomas Ward, his 25 year old cousin Lulu Ward died close to the scene of the murder when she was struck by a car on the A1M.

It's thought she had been attempting to cross the motorway to look at flowers that had been left as a mark of respect for Thomas.

Then in May of last year Thomas's father received information that suspects in his son's killing were hiding in Coventry.

Leaving his home in Leighton Buzzard, Beds he set off for the Midlands but ended up crashing his BMW and causing serious injuries to a woman and young child involved in the collision.

He later pleaded guilty to his driving causing serious injury, driving while disqualified, driving with excess alcohol and driving with no insurance.