The trial began on 14 November 2007. It lasted six weeks. It was held at Chester Crown Court where Myra Hindley and Ian Brady were tried. Its large, grand courtroom and its history added to the feeling that this was a seminal trial.
The court was told that at one point more than fifteen youths surrounded Garry egging each other on. One neighbour told the jury the gang attacked like ‘a pack of animals’. But five teenagers stood trial for murder. Unemployed Swellings was portrayed as the ringleader of the gang that killed Garry. As well as Sorton and Cunliffe, there were two others, one aged 15, the other 17. These two cannot be identified for legal reasons.
The Police and Crown Prosecution Service were confident. When Adam Swellings tried to plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter, the prosecution rejected his plea. The evidence against the defendants included eyewitnesses and PCSO statements, CCTV footage, forensic and physical evidence.
But the prosecution had also to call Garry’s daughters to give evidence in the murder trial of their father. Zoe was called first. They placed screens around her so she wouldn’t have to look at her father’s killers in the dock. She described seeing her father ‘kicked like a football.’
Amy, just 13-years-old, was also expected to give evidence.
“The family are asked not to show any emotion so as not to prejudice the jury. So that was a very difficult one for Helen and the family whereas the defendants were laughing and joking. One of the defendants was in the box and allowed to have his mum with him cause he was upset. Yet when the girls were giving their evidence they weren’t afforded that luxury.”
Christine Stubbs, Police Family Liaison Officer
There was a noticeable contrast between the dignity of the daughters and the disrespect of the defendants. With hindsight, it can be noted that three of the defendants didn’t need to make a grieving family go through the trial. They did not have to make teenage girls relive the moment they saw their father beaten to death.
But the defendants weren’t respectful to the family, to the other witnesses, indeed, to anything.
“...the youths involved in the case didn’t seem to have any respect for the proceedings, no real sense of the magnitude of the case and of what they’d done and (that) the eyes of the country were on them...They were laughing and joking and making a mockery...of the proceedings...Jordan Cunliffe...laughed and joked his way from beginning to end.”
Neil Docking, Crime Reporter
One detective believed he saw one of the defendants drop off to sleep. They fidgeted, shuffled, grinned and sniggered their way through the rest of the trial.
When the defendants gave their evidence, they often tried to excuse themselves by blaming others. They also tried to suggest that it was Garry who had been aggressive and they were acting in self-defence. Swellings at one point tried to suggest he was acting to protect the younger members of the gang.
The jury retired to consider their verdict on 2 January 2008. They would deliberate for 55 hours. The length of time worried the police. They were worried it indicated the jury weren’t sure of the defendant’s guilt.
After ten days anxious days of waiting Helen and her family heard their verdict.
Three teenagers were found guilty of murder.
On hearing the verdict 19-year-old Swellings was said to be ‘emotionless’; 17-year-old Stephen Sorton ‘just gazed straight ahead’; and 16-year-old Jordan Cunliffe, the joker in the court, suddenly burst into tears and wailed.
Two other teenagers, 15 and 17, were cleared by the jury of murder and manslaughter.
Helen was relieved that three of her husband’s murderers had been found guilty but was angry at the acquittals.
“...victims are not at the heart of the justice. We’re at the bottom of the ladder.”