He was the man who 'everyone knew'. Stephen Phillips loved nothing more than going fishing and walking his beloved dog Beauty, regularly seen strolling around the streets of Wolverhampton with her and chatting to people.
He was known as, his family say, the 'joker with the dog'.
But his life was tragically cut short when he was murdered on March 11 after being the victim of a robbery.
He made his way back home after the attack before dying at his home on Dudley Road, Blakenhall with his loyal dog at his side.
His body was found lying in the house the following day, and police have been working around the clock to piece together his final moments, hours before he was found.
His family say they had all been together in the day, unaware of what was about to happen.
They had been laughing and joking as they picked out winners for the start of the Cheltenham Festival.
And today Stephen's family appealed for Express & Star readers to come forward with information which could lead to capturing his killer.
Speaking exclusively to our reporter, they told how their lives had been torn apart by the tragedy and that they would not rest until his attacker had been found.
His partner Tina Furey, said: “Anybody who knows anything please come forward.
"We need this as a family - we need to know how and why this happened. Somebody out there knows something and this has ruined our lives.
"I would say to the person who killed Stephen - you were man enough to kill him, be man enough to come forward - how can you walk around knowing what you have done?"
During our interview, Miss Furey, along with Stephen's sister, Margaret Moore and his daughter, Tara Phillips, struggled to contain their emotions as they recounted the day, and spoke of the plans they had for the future.
Just hours before his death, the family had gathered at the home of one of Mr Phillips' six children, where he was being his usual playful self.
Miss Furey said he was always joking and making people laugh, and told of the heart-wrenching conversation she had with him on the day of his death.
The couple had split up 12 years ago but had recently reconciled and were determined to move to Cornwall, where they had spent many holidays with the family, so they could start afresh.
She said: "We are just heart-broken and devastated. It feels like everything has been ripped apart.
"Why would someone do such a thing for no apparent reason?
"We had our moments like any other couple but we were happy. I never realised how much I loved him until he had gone. I was scared to tell him how I felt.
"He phoned me up before this happened and told me he loved me.
"I had the phone in my hand for the rest of the day, ready to tell him how I felt, but I didn't and I regret that now."
She said: "It has ruined our lives. Next year we were all going to move down to Cornwall and start afresh, have another go at being a proper family, and then this happened.
"We were going to make a new start in life and now we will never get to do that.
"We are angry that he has been taken away from us and angry that we aren't going to get that opportunity to work on things and put things right."
She said he was also looking forward to welcoming the latest addition to the family, Brandon, who is due to be born in June.
She said: "This is an evil act and for no apparent reason he has been taken from us and his six children, especially the younger ones, have been left devastated.
“He has three grandchildren and he will not be here to see the arrival of his fourth grandchild which is due in June."
His daughter, Tara Phillips, added: "All of us were together on the day it happened.
“Mum was having her hair cut and the whole family was sitting together with my Dad and they were picking horses for the Cheltenham races.
“My brother’s dog was really poorly and we had just been told that the dog had been put to sleep and we all went to his house together as a family to offer support."
His daughter spoke fondly of her memories of her dad, and about how she would often make them all laugh with his clumsy nature.
She said he had taken over looking after Beauty since his death, which had affected the dog as well.
She added: "We had lots of happy memories. There are loads. He was a great Dad to have around.
"My dad was a huge dog lover and he shed a few tears for the dog.
"He brought Beauty home as a puppy around seven years ago and they were devoted to each other - they were inseparable - she has not been the same since he died and has been really quiet."
Police say that Beauty was at his side when he died at his home.
She said the family have many happy memories of Mr Phillips, who she described as a "happy-go-lucky" person.
She said: "He was a jovial, happy-go-lucky man. People would call him the joker with the dog.
"He would fall over a matchstick. He was really clumsy. He was a loving, caring father to all the children."
Besides his dog Beauty, Stephen's other love was fishing. Miss Furey said he would make his way to Bailey's pool in Shifnal every weekend to go fishing.
He even made his way into the Express & Star and local television news after he found time to pop into a shop to get his rod fixed while on the way to hospital with Miss Furey as she was about to give birth to their son Craig in 1997.
She said: "He used to love fishing. He would always go over to Bailey's pool in Shifnal every weekend without fail.
"We were in the paper a few years ago because he went into a shop while I was giving birth to get his rod fixed.
"It was a a few days after the death of Diana, people were saying we were the first good news story since her death.
"We had people knocking on our door at 7am wanting to talk to us about it. It was mad but it was funny.
"That was Stephen."
Speaking to the Express & Star at the time, Mr Phillips said: "Tina was alright. I'd already been through it all four times, so I knew she was going to be okay.
"I got her to the maternity hospital eventually, after getting my rod mended and buying my bait, and everything went smoothly.
"I counted the contractions and I was happy that we had time to pop into the tackle shop for a bit and still get to hospital."
During our interview, tears of sorry soon turned to smiles as they looked through old photos of Stephen, from his days fishing in Shifnal, to old holidays, with and without the children.
Miss Furey said he was also well known as he had held down a number of jobs since leaving school at 15.
As well as working as a grinder in the last 90s, he also served as a security guard at Beatties in the city centre in his early 40s.
His sister, Margaret Moore, said he had grown up to be a happy man who enjoyed his life despite having a serious illness as a child.
When he was 10, Stephen was diagnosed with Perthes' Disease.
The condition affects the upper part of the thigh, which softens as the person grows up.
Mrs Moore said: "He was quite ill when he was younger with Perthes' Disease and spent about 18 months in hospital and rehab.
"He found out he had this strange disease and couldn't get out. He had it when he was about 10.
"He had a limp and would walk out of places with a sweep of his leg.
"It helped him become the happy-go-lucky person he was. He was going to have to have a hip replacement at some point."
Miss Phillips said that the family didn't want to have to put out an appeal through the newspaper, but did it because they had to find out what had happened to her father.
She added: "We didn't really want to do this but hopefully it will help. We want people to come forward.
"At the end of the day, there is someone out there, walking around knowing what they have done and still breathing.
"My Dad isn't."
Key to father’s death ‘lies in the community’ - do you know who killed Stephen?
The answer to Stephen Phillips’ murder lies in the community, the police officer in charge of the hunt said today.
Det Insp Justin Spanner today urged people to think back to the night of March 11, when the 54-year-old was attacked, before being found dead at his home in Dudley Road, Blakenhall, the next day.
One of the last people to see him alive saw him walking near to Johnson Street, close to his home. It is suspected Mr Phillips was assaulted after this sighting, possibly for his mobile phone which was missing, and died after returning home.
DI Spanner said: “The night in question was the first day of the Cheltenham races and if you are a football fan, it was the night Arsenal drew away at Bayern Munich.
“We think it happened sometime in the late evening, later than 8pm.”
“I believe that the answer to how Stephen died lies within the community. Stephen was born, lived, worked and died in the area and this appeal is not about helping the police it is about helping the family of Stephen, they deserve to know what happened to their loved one.”
Crimestoppers, the independent charity which allows people to leave information anonymously, is offering a £5,000 reward for anyone who comes forward with information which leads to the arrest and conviction of someone.
- Crimestoppers - call 0800 555 111 or visit crimestoppers-uk.org
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