The Corby £20 killer: How Sean Doherty became a monster

When Sean Doherty paraded Tom Gravestock around his friend’s houses, topless and brandishing an metal bar, swinging his t-shirt in his hand, he had only one thing on his mind - to degrade and humiliate the man he was to kill within hours.

Friday, 1st March 2019, 5:00 am
Sean Doherty NNL-190228-214547005

The arrogant 25-year-old from Corby was yesterday given a sentence of seven years and two months for killing Thomas Gravestock at 30 Butterwick Walk, Corby, on August 22 last year.

Appearing in the dock yesterday (Thursday, February 28) wearing a blue Nike tracksuit top and jogging bottoms, Doherty stood emotionless as the court heard the horrific details of how he killed Tom.

A former Our Lady and Pope John and Lodge Park pupil, Doherty finished his time in school in the Forest Gate Pupil Referral Unit.

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Sean Doherty poses for a selfie NNL-190228-214527005

One former classmate of Doherty said yesterday he was ‘not surprised in the slightest’ that he had ended up killing someone.

He added: “He was an out and out bully and people were scared of him.

“There was always very obviously something not quite right there.”

He had been diagnosed with ADHD at 11 and the court heard how he had had a ‘traumatic childhood’.

Sean Doherty taking a selfie NNL-190228-214557005

Doherty had a drug addiction and had spent time in the Corby homeless shelter alongside Tom, who was also gripped by addiction.

Although his psychological reports were used in mitigation in court, Doherty’s barrister Mr James House QC said he did not feel it was necessary to repeat them in open court.

At the time of the killing, Doherty had a friend who lived at 3, Lincoln Way, named in court as ‘Graham’, He was said to look upon Graham as an uncle.

The victim, 35-year-old father of two Tom, owed Graham a £20 drug debt.

Police officers search 3, Lincoln Way, Corby after the murder NNL-190228-214537005

Prosecuting barrister, John Lloyd Jones QC said: “The fact it had not been repayed annoyed the defendant.

“He took it upon himself to collect that from Tom and double the amount he owed.”

In an act described by the judge as ‘humiliating’, he paraded his victim from house to house on the Lincoln estate on the evening of his death, and appeared to be increasing the pressure on Tom by upping the amount he owed to £40. He vowed to stay ‘by his side’ until the debt was repaid some two days later when Tom was due to get paid.

The pair met up on the evening of Tuesday, August 21, last year at 30 Butterwick Walk, a house lived in by a woman named in court as Gemma Beck. Locals had complained for months about drug dealing at the house, which had become a magnet for addicts and criminals.

Sean Doherty, 25, who was jailed for seven years and two months after killing Thomas Gravestock NNL-190228-141532005

One local resident, who was too scared to be named, told the NT in the days after the murder: “We’d phoned the police lots of times. “There was a woman living in the street who herself was a policewoman and she’d tried to get something done but it just continued.

“I felt a bit sorry for the person who lived there because it was like her house had been taken over by the druggies. She had no choice.

“One night there was a big fight in the street and there was a machete. There were people coming and going at all hours.

“We have kids. We shouldn’t have to live like this.”

Another house in Butterwick Walk had been subject to a closure order just a few months before the killing because of previous issues with drug dealing.

On the night of the killing, a man named Andy Rae had been at 30 Butterwick Walk with a group including Doherty, Gemma Beck and Tom.

Doherty had taken Tom - who was 5ft 8in but weighed just nine stone - to another house where he had degraded him by making him say: “I am not a good person, I am not a good person.” He had also punched him several times in the face.

Two female witnesses said that ‘Tom looked defeated and he looked broken’ on that evening.

The pair then returned to 30 Butterwick Walk where Mr Gravestock went upstairs to bed.

In the early hours, a female neighbour reported hearing noises coming from the house.

Prosecuting, John Lloyd-Jones said: “It seemed that a male was doing the shouting.
“She heard grunts and groans and strong thuds.

“Someone shouted ‘stop.’”

It was in the early hours that another man, David Howe, was phoned by Gemma Beck’s number.

Mr Howe spoke to Tom and told him to give answers to Doherty but he just replied with ‘huh’.

At this point, Rae - who had been watching a film with Beck - told police he went upstairs and saw Doherty stamping on the victim’s head and placing a ‘full on kick’ at his head. Doherty denied this in police interview and later in court.

Instead, Doherty told police that he saw Andrew Rae jumping ‘with his full weight’ on to the victim’s chest.

Doherty found the time during the attack to send picture messages of Tom’s injuries to his friend Mr Howe, including one of him with his foot on the victim’s head, and the boastful message ‘Cockney Tom’s getting it for your cheek over not answering.’

By this time, Tom’s head injuries would have meant that he was not fully aware of the seriousness of his abdominal injuries, which were the ones that ultimately killed him.

Critically, nobody inside 30 Butterwick Walk phoned the police or an ambulance at any point during the night.

In pleading guilty to manslaughter, Doherty accepted only that his actions were part of a ‘joint enterprise’ that ended with Tom’s death.

The NT understands that Rae was spoken to by officers as part of their initial enquiries but has never been charged with any offence in connection with the attack.

Later in the night on August 22, Doherty says he went back upstairs and heard Tom snoring, with the assumption being that he was still alive.

He told police that he thought there had, at some point, been a second attack on Tom by another man, which has been so far uncorroborated by any evidence.

Tom’s lifeless body was discovered the following morning at 11.20am by a paramedic.

The injuries included 35 blunt force trauma injuries, rib fractures, two collapsed lungs, a lacerated liver and a fractured skull.

When he was arrested at his friend Graham’s house at 3, Lincoln Way, the morning after the killing, such was his arrogance that Doherty was still wearing a pair of trainers that had been used to kick Tom with. His clothing was spattered with his blood.

In court, prosecutor John Lloyd-Jones said: “He was taken to the police station and made a full denial.

“He said he’d never been to 30 Butterwick Walk and did not know Thomas Gravestock and had not fought with him.

“He then answered no comment to the questions that were put to him.”

Later, he admitted only moving Tom with his foot and slapping his face.

The court heard Doherty’s criminal record was violent and extensive and included burglary, shoplifting, dishonesty, drugs, public disorder, criminal damage, drug possession and dangerous driving.

He’d served ‘a number of’ prison sentences.

In one Corby robbery in 2008, when Doherty was just 15, he had punched the victim in the face and stolen his bike. In the next three years he was involved in more similar vicious robberies.

Then in 2014, he repeatedly punched the victim of one of his robberies in the face and then kicked them.

And in 2017, when he was arrested for shoplifting, he kicked the security guard who caught him in the chest.

In one affray incident, police were called to a house in Butterwick Walk in 2017 where he was kicking the door down and broke through a window.

On the day of the killing, Doherty had been arrested for shoplifting and had been in police custody but, fatally, he was released.

The court heard how Doherty had tried to settle Tom’s debt “in the way his upbringing had taught him to, and the way he believed was correct.”

Mitigating, James House QC said that Doherty had a life limited by few choices.

He said: “He had to fend for himself.

“His influences in life are people who you wouldn’t want to be influencing you.

“Drink and drugs took hold at a very young age.”

Mr House said that since being in jail on remand, Doherty had sought help from professionals for his addictions.

“Sentences to help address his drug taking in the past have not been a success,” he said.

“But this time he’s the one seeking the help.

“He’s done it of his own volition.

“He did not set out on that day for anyone to lose their life.”

Doherty knew that pleading guilty to manslaughter would lessen his sentence, and he did so at the very last opportunity at a pre-trial review on February 13 just a few days before the three-week murder trial was due to start.

Witnesses had already made arrangements to be at the trial and months of work had been put in by prosecutors and Doherty’s defence team.

Nevertheless, bound by sentencing guidelines, the judge had to give Doherty credit for pleading guilty, reducing his sentence by 25 per cent.

Judge Lucking also said that Doherty had shown remorse, reducing his sentence further.

His jail term of seven years and two months means that, with six months already served, Doherty could be back on the streets of Corby in three years and one month - by April 2022.

In a further attempt to show his remorse, and perhaps to lower his sentence, in court yesterday (Thursday, February 28) Doherty pledged to now tell police everything he knows about the incident. The NT believes that murder detectives are now planning a trip to prison to speak to Doherty.

This will come as little comfort to Tom’s devastated parents and his children, aged six and ten, who will never see their father again.

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“Killed for £20” - Corby man jailed for manslaughter of Thomas Gravestock