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Simon Johnson: The mobile phone theft which led to father's murder

By John Scott | Netherton | Crime | Published:

It was a 'mean and despicable' offence that started a series of events that ended in murder.

Forensic officers outside the house where Simon Johnson was killed.

Simon Johnson had invited Jack Griffin, now 19, and two of the teenager's friends - Abbey Hughes and Clayton Pritchard - to his Cradley Road, Netherton home for drinks after a chance meeting in a pub.

Griffin, who had six previous convictions including aggravated vehicle taking, repaid the favour by stealing the host's mobile phone from a kitchen worktop.

He showed it to his friends after they left the house, laughing and 'just shrugging' when asked why he had taken it, one of them later told police.

The following day Griffin sold the mobile, which apparently had not been reported stolen at that stage, for £180 cash at Planet Mobile in the Merry Hill Shopping Centre which sold it on to a customer on August 8 but it was returned when calls to and from the stolen handset were blocked.

The shameless thief and his pals went back to Mr Johnson's home with a replacement phone five days later.

CCTV cameras captured Griffin and the 41-year-old buying lager together at an Asda supermarket near the Cradley Road, Netherton, house at around 11pm on August 10 last year. It was the last time the older man was seen alive. His body was found less than ten hours later.

He and the three teenagers drank, played video games and watched TV until he went to bed, leaving the teenagers to roam his home after allegedly locking the front door and telling them to leave through an unlocked front window.

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Each took the opportunity to steal cannabis from a crop being grown in a bedroom at the address.

The trio were filmed on CCTV around 2.30am on the morning of August 11 carrying the plants while walking down Durham Road, round the corner from Mr Johnson's address. The plants were stripped and put into a bin bag which was then stored in a dustbin.

But Pritchard wanted more and returned with two 15-year-old youths who cannot be named. They were seen on CCTV walking away from the address around 4am and the younger pair were spotted again around an hour later as they went back for 'seconds.'

The duo ended up at an address in Sidaway Street, Cradley Heath used by 19-year-old Damilola Johnson who also wanted cannabis and was guided by one of the 15-year-olds to the address where they woke Mr Johnson with fatal consequences. Both were accused of his murder.

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A bin bag containing harvested cannabis was found under his body while a tell tale trail of dropped leaves led down the street from the house.

Judge James Burbidge QC told Griffin from The Beck, Netherton that the theft of the victim's mobile phone had been a 'mean and despicable' offence adding: "Mr Johnson showed you nothing but kindness and, no doubt if you had asked for some, he would have given you some cannabis. But you chose to steal it just like you had his phone."

Griffin, now 19, who admitted stealing the phone and cannabis, was given two months detention suspended for a year on a community order with 80 hours unpaid work and a two month night time curfew. He was also ordered to pay £180 compensation and £200 costs.

Hughes of Harcourt Road, Cradley Heath and of previous good character, who had 'got in with the wrong crowd,' admitted stealing cannabis and received a 12-month community order, 50 hours unpaid work and £200 costs.

Pritchard, aged 19, from Petford Street, Cradley Heath admitted theft and two burglaries at Mr Johnson's home.

He was given 12 months detention suspended for a year with 80 hours unpaid work and £80 costs.

The other 15-year-old, who admitted twice burgling the victim's home on the day of the murder, was given a four-month detention and training order.

John Scott

By John Scott
Reporter/News Feature Writer

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