Life Sentence For Screwdriver Murder

20 October 2011, 14:59 | Updated: 26 October 2012, 12:19

A man who plunged a screwdriver into his victim's head, leaving him in a vegetative state until his death, was jailed for life today - 11 years after the attack.

Leigh Clift, 31, was convicted of murder despite already having spent five years behind bars for wounding Jonathan Barton with intent.

He must now spend a minimum term of 6 more years in prison before he can be considered for parole.

Clift's blow was so fierce, it went straight through Jonathan's skull and through his brain.  It caused a catastrophic brain injury which left him in a semi vegetative state.

For 9 years he was cared for by his devoted mother Kim Barton.  He was unable to feed himself or even swallow. His only way of communicating was by facial or hand movements.

Today at Luton Crown Court, Mr Justice Saunders praised Ms Barton for the dignified way in which she had conducted herself.

After Clift's conviction for murder last week, she said there were no winners, only losers in the case.

The judge said "It seems to me her conduct was extraordinarily magnanimous.

"It was an appalling ordeal for the family.  No words can describe what they have gone through.  They will never forget him and never replace him."

The attack happened on the 8 September 2000 in the car park of The Beacon pub in Bletchley, Bucks, when Jonathan, a Tesco warehouse worker from Milton Keynes, was just 19.

He did not die until July 11 2009.

By then Clift, a Courier, of Lincolnshire Close, Bletchley, had been freed from a 10 year sentence for wounding Jonathan with intent.  He had served 5 years of the 10 year term imposed at Aylesbury Crown Court in January 2002.

His barrister, Andrew Jefferies QC, described Clift as a "model prisoner."

On his release, he formed a relationship with a new partner, who knew of his past, and they have an 18 month old daughter.

Clift was arrested for the second time in January of this year and was charged with murder.

It followed medical findings that, despite the length of time that had passed, Jonathan's death had been a result of the horrendous attack 9 years earlier.

The jury heard it happened on a Friday after the Tesco worker had been paid.

Workers from two different sections of the company had gathered in the pool room and in the front bar.

Also there that afternoon was Clift, aged 20 at the time, who was with a friend.

The atmosphere became hostile when a man tried to chat up a girl in the pool room and her boyfriend became angry.

Word spread that trouble was brewing and Jonathan walked from the main bar to the pool room to see what was happening.

Prosecutor Neil Moor QC, said a friend of Clift was heard to say "If they want to start, I will give them something.  I ain't gonna back down."

As Clift and the friend left the pub, Clift winked at Jonathan and a friend "provocatively."

The other two men followed the pair outside and there was a further row.

Clift and his friend were seen at a car boot looking inside to get something.

A screwdriver was handed to Clift to use as a weapon and, moments later after a scuffle, Jonathan was on the ground bleeding from his head.

Clift ran off, throwing away the screwdriver and a top he was wearing.

After being rushed by ambulance to hospital, it was discovered that Jonathan had two puncture wounds to his head.  There was a less serious wound over his left eyebrow.

The second wound had passed through the left side of the head and into the brain and travelled across to the right side of the head.

Jonathan was to spend the rest of his life in hospitals, re-hab units and at home, where his mother had an extension built so he could be cared for there.

He was fed through a tube which had been inserted into his stomach.

In July 2009 he was admitted to Milton Keynes Hospital so the tube could be checked.  On July 10 it was surgically re-inserted but, in the early hours of the next day, he became unwell and suffered a cardio-respiratory arrest and died.

A medical expert found there had been a direct link between the attack on Jonathan and the complication which led to his death.

Sentencing Clift, Mr Justice Saunders said:  "Many lives have been affected by that moment of madness, caused I have no doubt by drinking excessive alcohol.

"Anybody who heard the evidence in this court was struck by the enormous waste and futility of what happened.  Ms Barton, who has behaved with great dignity throughout these proceedings, said there were no winners arising out of this trial.  There are only losers and she was right."

Passing a minimum term of 6 years, the judge said:  "The main mitigation is that he has already served a long prison sentence."

After the verdict, Ms Barton, who has three other sons, James, 31, Anthony, 27, and Aaron, 25, said:  "Now we just want Jonathan to rest in peace.  We will try to re-build our lives even though there is a gaping great hole that he has left behind.

"I am just so grateful we had him all that time after what happened.  He gave us moments of complete joy with his smile.  He has left us behind some beautiful memories''