Victim’s devastated parents hear killers told to expect life terms

Two men each face a life sentence after they were convicted of murdering a 20-year-old in a brutal street attack.

Joshua Hirst, known as Josh, was stabbed near his home in Grove Street, Mirfield, on August 3 last year as he returned from his girlfriend’s 18th birthday celebrations.

He managed to stagger home but collapsed in the street before he could be taken to hospital.

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A jury at Leeds Crown Court yesterday found Joe Church, 21 of Redlands Close, Mirfield and Aaron Smith, 19 of Saville Street, Emley, guilty by a 10-2 majority of his murder.

A third defendant, Nadeem Rashid, 21 of Lapwing View, Horbury, Wakefield who drove them to the area was acquitted of murder or manslaughter.

Adjourning sentencing until next Thursday, the Recorder of Leeds, Judge Peter Collier QC told Church and Smith he would then impose a life sentence but had to consider the minimum period they must serve.

The jury heard during the trial that Church bought the knife used earlier that day in Leeds after he had been watching some of his gang friends from the London Park estate in Mirfield sentenced for robbery.

Balaclavas had also been bought before he and Smith confronted Josh Hirst after he parked near his home that night having been to a restaurant for his girlfriend’s birthday.

Neil Davey, QC, prosecuting, told the jury there had been some “bad blood” between Mr Hirst and those from London Park and it was possible the pair also planned to rob him.

In the attack that followed he suffered catastrophic neck injuries from which he died, including his carotid artery being cut.

The pair fled the scene and later that night tried to dispose of bloodstained items during two car journeys.

After the verdicts Detective Chief Inspector Chris Walker described the attack on Mr Hirst as “cowardly”.

“They lay in wait for Josh wearing masks and then subjected him to a truly brutal assault,” he added.

“This was an attack which was clearly premeditated and demonstrated a shocking level of violence sadly resulting in this young man’s death.”

The impact on Mr Hirst’s family who tried to help him in the street, had been crushing.

His parents, Terry and Julie, and his brother Jon were in court for the verdicts. Afterwards they said: “Our lives have been devastated by the loss of Josh.”

“We loved him so much and in turn he was loved by so many and brought joy, loyalty and happiness into the lives of others.”

“On Friday August 3 2012 he went out to celebrate his girlfriend’s birthday and we were so proud of how handsome and smart he looked.

“We never got to see Josh celebrate his 21st birthday and we feel like we have been robbed by the evil and cowardly attack on him.

“He was a brave young man that night despite the horrific injuries he had received.”

“A beautiful kind human being has been taken from his loving mother, father and brother and is greatly missed.”

Josh worked for his father’s firm Hirst Fabrication Ltd and the plan had been for him to eventually take over the business.

Customers described the 20-year-old in references as “polite and professional in his approach”, “likeable” and “courteous and personable”.