Lee Cooper's family label his killers 'bullies and cowards' as they are jailed for a total of 53 years for murder

Two men have been jailed for life for a murder which a judge observed was among the most horrific he had dealt with.

Thursday, 20th June 2019, 5:31 pm
Updated Thursday, 20th June 2019, 6:41 pm
Neil Maxwell (left) and Luke Pearson will be sentenced for the murder of Hartlepool man Lee Cooper. Picture: Cleveland Police.

Neil Maxwell and Luke Pearson attacked Hartlepool man Lee Cooper in a street in Stockton in a revenge attack, Teesside Crown Court heard.

In a victim personal statement read by Mr Cooper's sister Louise on behalf of his parents and brother, she said Lee was 'no angel' but they had shared a special bond.

"He was always looking out for me when we were growing up," said Louise.

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Lee Cooper

"He continued to do that as an adult.

"Some of the life choices he made were not the best, but he couldn't stand bullies and would always stick up for people who were being bullied.

"Maxwell and Pearson are bullies and cowards, they mutilated Lee's body.

"As a family we have had to go through months of pain, not knowing what happened to Lee because they pleaded not guilty.

The case was heard at Teesside Crown Court.

"I hope they both get substantial prison sentences to give them time to reflect on what they have done."

During a trial lasting two weeks, the court heard several assaults involving other people took place in the 24 hours leading up to the murder.

The chain of events culminated with Mr Cooper looking for Maxwell because he had assaulted of friend of his, and Maxwell looking for Mr Cooper who he believed had assaulted a friend of Maxwell's.

Both men met in Westbourne Road in Stockton on December 23 last year.

"That was at about 5.30am and culminated with the killing of Mr Cooper after 7am in what the Crown says was the endgame of a simmering feud," said Nick Dry, prosecuting.

"Much of it was captured on CCTV, and it was witnessed by horrified residents.

"The vicious attack on Mr Cooper continued as he lay defenceless in the gutter, his body stripped naked by the two defendants.

"They were seen to go into Pearson's house to get more weapons.

"Pearson picked up a discarded television stand which he used on Mr Cooper."

Maxwell, 40, of Lytton Court, North Ormesby, denied the murder of Lee Cooper.

He changed his plea to guilty after Judge Ashurst ruled his partial defence to murder of 'loss of control' could not legally stand.

Maxwell admitted wounding Matthew Elsy with intent to do him grievous bodily harm in another attack, this time involving a bicycle chain and other weapons.

Maxwell also admitted assaulting Jamie Jackson occasioning him actual bodily harm for no apparent reason other than he was unlucky enough to come across the two defendants.

All the offences took place on December 23 last year.

Pearson, 19, of Westbourne Street, Stockton, denied the murder of Mr Cooper, and he denied assaulting Jamie Jackson, occasioning him actual bodily harm.

Pearson claimed he had a mental abnormality which impaired his ability to think rationally and exercise self control.

The jury found him guilty of both offences.

Pearson admitted wounding Matthew Elsy with intent to do him grievous bodily harm.

Handing down a life sentence to each defendant, Judge Ashurst said: "The violence inflicted on Mr Cooper was truly horrific, it was exceptional, bordering on the sadistic.

"The court must be wary of saying it's the most serious case it has dealt with, but we can only speak as we find.

"Another disturbing feature of the case is the defendants appeared afterwards to be proud of what they had done."

Maxwell was given a life sentence with a minimum tariff of 29 years, 353 days, taking into account time he has spent on remand not serving an earlier sentence.

Pearson was given a life sentence with a minimum tariff of 23 years, 189 days, taking into account time spent on remand.

Both defendants were given six years to run concurrently for the assault on Mr Elsy.

Maxwell was given 18 months, also concurrent, for the assault on Mr Jackson.

Pearson was given two years concurrent for the assault on Mr Jackson.

Maxwell, who was one of the main characters in Channel 4's Benefits Street documentary series in 2015, told the judge he would 'do 30 years, no bother'.

Judge Ashurst concluded his remarks by saying: "It is important the public realises the tariffs I have set are minimum terms.

"It will be for the Parole Board to decide when, after those terms have passed, the defendants are released.

"They may serve longer, or they may never be released."

Speaking after the case, Detective Sergeant Matthew Westerfield of the Cleveland and North Yorkshire Police Major Investigation team said the case was among most horrific incident he had ever dealt with.

"This case has been very traumatic for all involved," added the officer. "That includes our own officers.

"Pleading not guilty meant Maxwell and Pearson caused Lee's family to re-live his death, and hear things that no parent or family member should have to hear.

"Given the brutal nature of the incident, I would like to acknowledge the bravery of the witnesses who came forward.

"I would also like to acknowledge the bravery of Lee's family, and the dignity they have shown throughout the court process.

"Whist nothing can be done to bring Lee back, I sincerely hope his family can find some solace in the sentences handed down today."