Scott Cooke verdict: A park fight that ended in murder
They should have been full of festive cheer just after Christmas but instead two rival gangs arrived at Shrewsbury's Monkmoor Recreation Ground armed with ill will, vicious intent and an arsenal of weaponry.
The 20 or so men who converged there on December 27, 2011, brandished knives, iron bars and bottles. It was a recipe for disaster which delivered the tragedy it threatened.
Scott Cooke intended only to use his fists after demanding a one-on-one confrontation to settle a score. Hours later, he was dead, the victim of five stab wounds to the chest after opponent Peter Clinton 'broke the code' by bringing a blade to the punch up.
All the men who gathered at the recreation ground knew one another and had indeed been friends before that fateful night changed everything.
Peter Clinton, Damen McDonough and Aaron Doran had spent much of Boxing Day together drinking, snorting cocaine and taking cannabis, jurors were told.
They woke the following day at McDonough's flat and continued drinking. But with supplies running low, Clinton suggested going to a house in Abbots Road, Shrewsbury, to get cash he was owed from a friend, Mark Williams, to buy more booze and drugs.
Clinton was no stranger to violence. He had a long criminal record and had been jailed for 12 months in 2010 for grievous bodily harm.
When Williams refused to give him the cash, Clinton demanded drugs he believed were being kept at the house and things quickly became heated.
McDonough and Doran, according to prosecuting counsel Mr Bob Price, were taken as 'muscle' in case things went wrong and Mr Williams suffered a cut lip as he was punched by Clinton. Clinton left the house carrying a small TV and a games console, and passed Doran some games to take. Doran was convicted of aggravated burglary but cleared of any part in the events to follow, resulting in Mr Cooke's death.
The loot was eventually dumped on Mr Williams' front lawn and the three men fled empty-handed – but only, Mr Price said, because the victim threatened to get the police involved.
Scott Cooke quickly heard about what had happened and was said to be 'enraged' at the roughing up of his mate. As Doran told police, Mr Cooke and Clinton had been part of the same group of friends but he thought they 'had beef' with one another.
And it was Clinton who Mr Cooke blamed for the burglary, despite the defendant's efforts to convince him all three men were in it together and were equally to blame. Texts and calls started flying back and forth between Mr Cooke and McDonough, who were close friends themselves.
McDonough insisted he had nothing to do with the break-in, memorably telling the jury he was 'a carpenter not a burglar'.
To the prosecution he was neither, instead depicted as a 'snake' who was seemingly quite happy to feed his so-called friend Clinton to the lions.
McDonough told Mr Cooke he loved him and agreed to bring Clinton to the recreation ground for a showdown. A one-on-one fist fight between the two men was agreed, members on both sides said as they gave evidence.
Clinton, seemingly, wanted no part of it. The jury heard he bombarded his parents and his brother with texts and phone calls to come and pick him up, but to no avail. In the end, he said, he went along because he did not want to appear 'small'.
Before leaving the flat, Clinton and McDonough took two long kitchen knives as protection.They headed to the recreation ground and picked up two other men on the way. Upon arrival their fears of things turning ugly seemed well-founded.
A group of between eight and 15 men, led by Mr Cooke, emerged from fields and out of the shadows armed with iron bars and glass bottles.
McDonough was first out of the car and was described as waving his knife around as the gang converged on him.
The court heard McDonough put his weapon away, as did those on the other side, when it became clear Mr Cooke wanted Clinton, one-on-one.
Clinton had not brandished his knife; it was in his back pocket. As the two men came together the accounts from gang members on both sides were consistent – Mr Cooke was not armed.
Clinton was to say afterwards as he sped away from the scene that he thought Mr Cooke had stabbed him first before he pulled his own knife out of his pocket and drove it into his chest five times in a quick stabbing motion. But for the rest of those there that night, Clinton had 'broken the code' and used a weapon in a staged fist fight. Mr Cooke screamed out 'he has stabbed me' and lifted up his top to show blood dripping down from his chest.
Men on both sides were stunned and Clinton was forced to jump in the back of the car as Mr Cooke's friends rained blows on him.
McDonough got back in and the men sped away. Mr Cooke died a couple of hours later in hospital. One of the stab wounds had gone through his heart, a pathologist told the court. Weapons were later found dumped in bushes by police. Clinton, McDonough and Doran were arrested the next day.
Murderer Clinton today faced life behind bars while killer McDonough was also facing a lengthy jail term, after a three-week trial.
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