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18 December 2013, 17:26
Two people have been found guilty of perverting the course of justice after a man was beaten to death in a Dartford takeaway.
The couple plotted together to attempt to force a witness to the manslaughter of Ben Mahoney to retract his statement.
Neil Sookoo and Thereza George were convicted by a jury at Maidstone Crown Court today (18 December).
Mr Mahoney was killed in a brawl with ex-boxer Edward Ives in the House on the Hill kebab shop in East Hill on 20 April this year.
Ives was found guilty of manslaughter on 20 September following a trial at Maidstone Crown Court. He was jailed for eight years. However, on 2 August, he was arrested while in prison and at Maidstone Crown Court on 25 November, he admitted a charge of perverting the course of justice.
While he was in prison waiting for trial on the manslaughter, Ives spoke with his family on 9 May and claimed: "The kebab shop men made it look bad."
Ives was visited by his sister Meranda Eccleston and her friend Thereza George, 42, of Hampton Crescent, Gravesend, at HMP Lewes on 12 June. During the visit, Ives asked his sister to pass some information on to George. Later that day, he was recorded making a phone call to Mrs Eccleston and spelling out the names of three witnesses from the kebab shop.
Records from Mrs Eccleston's mobile phone later showed she sent a text to George.
George met up with her partner, Neil Sookoo, 37, of Hampton Crescent, Gravesend, later on 12 June.
Sookoo's phone records showed he tried to contact one of the witnesses later that evening but the call was unanswered.
However, on 13 June, records show Sookoo called the witness - whom he knew by a nickname - and left a message asking the witness to call back urgently.
The witness, who knew Sookoo through regular visits to the kebab shop, called him back and was told: "I've just been to see the guy and he said all the people in the kebab shop have lied in their statements, and that you should withdraw your statements or the Ives family would pay you a visit.
"These are not very nice people, so you should withdraw your statement."
The witness called Kent Police to report the intimidation and officers arrested Sookoo at his home address at 8.50pm on 13 June. He was charged with witness intimidation.
Eccleston and George were arrested on 25 July and later charged with perverting the course of justice.
While Sookoo was on remand waiting for his trial, he called George several more times asking her to revisit the witness.
George claimed she and Ives never discussed intimidating any witnesses. Sookoo denied knowing the witness, whom he knew by a different name, was involved in the trial, stating he believed he simply worked with the three prosecution witnesses named by Ives.
Mrs Eccleston was found not guilty by the jury.
Investigating officer, DCI Paul Fotheringham of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, said: "This was a convoluted case but it was clear plans had been made to force a witness to withdraw his statement under threat of violence.
"The prosecution witness Sookoo approached was one of the most prominent figures in the trial regarding Mr Mahoney's death.
"I am fully aware of the strain and pressure prosecution witnesses often feel when they are taking the stand. Some are in fear for their own safety, often due to the despicable and underhand methods demonstrated in this case by Ives, George and Sookoo.
"These three believed that Ives' reputation as a vicious thug would be enough to get the main witnesses to retract their statements. They underestimated the courage shown by this witness and clearly did not think through the trail of evidence that led to their arrest and charge.
"This court case has been a drawn-out process that has, once again, dragged up painful memories for Mr Mahoney's family. I welcome today?s verdict and am hopeful this will finally bring them the closure needed to go on with their lives."
A date has not yet been set for sentencing.