Teenagers guilty of assault which left Worthing father with life-changing injuries
Main article content
Three teenagers have been convicted of a sustained and vicious assault which left a Worthing father with life-changing injuries.
Alan Willson, 47, was found in Longcroft Park by a member of the public around 7.30pm on Easter Sunday (April 4) 2021.
He had suffered catastrophic head injuries and was rushed to hospital, where he stayed for three months before being discharged to continue his recovery and rehabilitation at home.
An investigation was launched and three boys, aged 13, 14 and 17 at the time, were arrested and charged with inflicting grievous bodily harm with intent. All three denied the offence.
On Thursday 12 May, after a 14-day trial at Hove Crown Court, two boys aged 14 and 15, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were found guilty of grievous bodily harm with intent by a unanimous jury.
Harry Furlong, 18, from Horsham, was found guilty by a majority jury of grievous bodily harm without intent.
The two boys have been remanded in a youth detention facility and Furlong has been remanded in custody until sentencing on July 1.
Emergency services were called to a wooded area of the park after a dog walker found Alan lying unconscious on the ground and bleeding from the head and face.
It was established Alan, a care worker, had been attacked after confronting three teenagers who had made an 11-year-old boy cry by pushing him to the ground while he was playing frisbee with his friends.
After a brief verbal argument, Alan was grabbed by one of the boys before all three began hitting him, delivering blows with a heavy, wooden log found nearby. The three boys then fled the scene, two on foot and one on a bicycle.
Police and paramedics attended the scene and it was found Alan had suffered extensive injuries including serious head trauma causing bleeding, bruising and swelling of the brain. He also suffered multiple fractures of the skull and face, including a fractured jaw and eye socket, and fractured ribs.
He was taken to the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton in a life-threatening condition.
Police immediately set about searching for the suspects. Based on descriptions from witnesses, they were able to identify three boys – two on foot and one on a bicycle – seen on CCTV in Juniper Close heading away from the park.
Officers continued to trace the boys’ movements on CCTV. The two younger boys were seen heading to a nearby address, where they changed their clothes before meeting back up with the third boy at Goring Railway Station.
There, the boys were seen retelling and re-enacting the assault in front of a group of other people. Witnesses described them as bragging about their actions in the park.
The two younger boys were identified from the footage and arrested later that evening. The third boy handed himself into police the next day.
All three were interviewed on several occasions and remained silent throughout.
Investigators began to build a case; forensic material attributed two of three suspects to the log used during the assault, and two of the three suspects were picked out of identity parades by witnesses.
The evidence was presented to the Crown Prosecution Service, which authorised charges for all three boys.
Alan suffered life-changing injuries as a result of the assault. He was unable to walk, talk or swallow. Through extensive rehabilitation, he has been able to walk and eat again, however more than a year after the assault, he is still unable to talk.
Alan's wife Annie said: “Alan didn’t walk into the park like this. Alan walked into the park being able to speak a sentence, and to move and to dance and play football.
“Before this happened, Alan was the kindest, gentlest man ever. His personality was amazing. He would make you laugh if he saw you were down, he would joke about. How he is now is hugely different. His life is gone. He’s a completely different man.
“The community has been amazing. I never even knew that level of support could reach us, but the money they raised has allowed us to adapt the house, putting laminate down and buying equipment for Alan. It has helped massively. Without that and without the local community, my husband wouldn’t have been able to come home.
“The impact it’s had on my family has been massive. We have lived this past year without an ‘I love you’, without ‘goodnight kids’, without any laughing and joking.
“Our whole family has been through hell and will continue to go through hell forever.”
Detective Chief Inspector Simon Dunn, senior investigating officer, said: "This was a sickening and violent assault on an innocent man, who had simply stepped in to help a young boy who was hurt and upset.
“The injuries Alan suffered showed this was a sustained and prolonged attack – the people responsible for this clearly intended to cause serious harm with their actions, and have not showed any remorse since.
“I would like to thank Annie and the rest of Alan’s family for the bravery and dignity they have showed throughout this heart-breaking ordeal. I can only hope the result at court today brings some comfort to them and allows them to move forward and focus fully on Alan’s recovery.
“I’d also like to thank the team of investigators who worked so hard to build a strong case, and the witnesses who came forward to help us bring those responsible to justice.”
Chief Inspector Sarah Leadbeatter, district commander for Worthing, added: ““I completely understand the shock and upset this horrific incident has caused, not only for those who know Alan but the wider community as well.
“I would like to reassure communities that we continue to do huge amounts of work in Worthing to try and tackle issues around youth violence and anti-social behaviour. This includes working closely with partners such as children social care, education, youth justice and the local council to support young people and divert them away from crime. Where this isn’t effective, we will be robust and we will take enforcement action, utilising the policing powers available to us, including dispersal orders, increased stop and search and the criminal justice process where it is felt necessary and proportionate to do so.
"It’s important to recognise that the problems we have seen in the local area are linked to a small cohort of young people, but it isn’t something that can be solved overnight, nor by one agency alone. It requires a partnership approach which we are heavily invested in and will continue to be a part of in the future.
“I want people to be safe but also feel safe in Worthing and therefore we will continue to have high visibility patrols in hot spot areas, dedicated policing operations focused on tackling youth violence and my neighbourhood policing teams will continue to engage with local communities to build on community intelligence and provide that reassurance.
“The level of violence and criminality we have seen in this case is completely unacceptable and it will not be tolerated and I need the community’s continued support to help us tackle this disruptive behaviour. If you are a victim of crime, or become aware of a crime happening, please report it to us. Every bit of information we receive helps paint a picture of what is happening in our community and puts us in a better position to respond and take positive action.”