Teenager who murdered father-of-four to spend at least 13 years in custody

A teenage boy who stabbed to death a father-of-four on the day of his twin daughters’ second birthday party has been sentenced to at least 13 years in custody for his murder.

Joshuah Sparks, 16, stabbed plumber James Gibbons four times after the 34-year-old challenged a group of youths who were harassing a homeless man, Chelmsford Crown Court was told.

The boy, who can be named after judge Mr Justice Charles Bourne lifted an anonymity order on the youth defendant, claimed it was self-defence but was found guilty of murder following an earlier trial.

Mr Gibbons was yards from his home in Iris Mews, Laindon, Essex, when he was knifed to death on May 2.

James Gibbons (Essex Police/PA)
James Gibbons (Essex Police/PA)

A video taken earlier in the day shows Mr Gibbons bringing a Peppa Pig birthday cake out for his twin daughters as they sit on his partner’s lap, and she blows out the candles.

The judge told Sparks: “It’s very troubling that there’s really no rational explanation for what you did and the original confrontation really had nothing to do with you at all.

“What you did is utterly out of proportion to anything done by anyone else involved in the incident, whichever side they were on.”

Sparks bowed his head to the judge as he was led to the cells, and members of his family called out “love you Josh” and “love you mate”.

Members of Mr Gibbons’s family wept at the end of the hearing.

Sparks, of Armada Close in Laindon, must serve at least 13 years in custody before he can be considered for parole.

In a victim impact statement read in court by a family member, Mr Gibbons’s partner Victoria Billingham said: “My children will spend their lives missing him and have a massive part of them missing.

“In all honesty, I’m terrified of our future.”

She said Mr Gibbons “cherished” their four children, who were aged seven, five and twin two-year-olds at the time, and he “worked extremely hard and long hours to make sure me and the kids wouldn’t go without”.

His mother, retired college lecturer Wendy Richards, said her son had brought a sleeping bag, pillows and blankets to the homeless man, called Christopher French.

“James was helping look after and protecting a vulnerable person,” she said.

She said the youths “acted as a pack” and, referring to Sparks, said: “He’s a monster to me and I will never forgive him.”

Ms Billingham said she remembered Mr Gibbons leaving their daughters’ birthday barbecue to speak to Mr French outside.

Prosecutor Simon Taylor QC told the earlier trial: “When he returned he told her there were a couple of 15-year-olds that were bullying Chris, taking advantage and eating his food.

“He then said he was going to have another cigarette outside with Mr French to make sure he was okay.”

Mr French, 32, said Mr Gibbons had given him barbecue food to eat when two people approached them, with one pulling his hoody and the other trying to take his food.

Mr French said Mr Gibbons confronted the youths and that a few minutes later, a larger group of youths returned.

James Gibbons
James Gibbons had challenged a group of youths who were harassing a homeless man (Essex Police/PA)

Mr Taylor told jurors that CCTV showed Mr Gibbons was “surrounded by youths yards from his home address”.

Mr French said he did not see anybody attack Mr Gibbons but heard a noise and saw him “wobbling around”, before falling on the floor as Mr Gibbons walked back from an alleyway.

Essex Police said that in the hours after the murder, the teenage defendant admitted to the stabbing in a message in a Snapchat group, adding: “I don’t care, I’m a psychopath.”

Mr Taylor said the defendant searched on the internet for “stabbing in Laindon” and “consequences of accidentally killing someone” in the early hours of May 3.

He said the defendant ran off to get a weapon then came back and used it.

Christine Agnew QC, mitigating, said Sparks had no previous convictions and had shown “real remorse”.

She added that he had an “unstable upbringing”, and that from the age of 13 he “frequently went missing… during that time he slept rough”.