Friend guilty of Scarborough ‘soft toy’ murder’

A MAN was convicted today of murdering a friend in Scarborough by wedging a soft rabbit toy in his mouth.

Gary Francis Virr, who was found dead on a mattress in the living room of his flat, had been the victim of a violent assault but it was the soft toy in his mouth that killed him, a murder trial at Leeds Crown Court heard.

Today, John Stamford, 52, of Kelia Court, Scarborough, was convicted of murdering Mr Virr. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with at least 16 years behind bars before he can be considered for parole.

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A police officer discovered Mr Virr’s body after a girlfriend reported him missing, Deborah Sherwin prosecuting said.

The police constable thought he could see his tongue was swollen in his bloodstained face but later that turned out to be a toy consisting of two rabbits joined to each other which had been rammed into his mouth.

She told the jury Mr Virr had facial injuries including a fractured eye socket and cheekbone which had been fragmented “but death was not caused by those injuries but asphyxia”.

Stamford later told the jury he “lost it” and began punching Mr Virr after he made a comment when he showed him a picture on his phone.

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Stamford said the picture was of a baby he believed at the time was his daughter, who had been taken into care soon after her birth.

He told Leeds Crown Court he was already upset and down over what had happened to her and when Mr Virr did not seem bothered, making the comment, “So what, you can always have another kid if you want one”, he reacted by punching the other man.

He said he was not aware how many times he punched Mr Virr but “I imagine it was hard.”

He told Simon Bourne-Arton QC, defending him: “At that point I lost it, didn’t I.”

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After the two-week trial, Det Supt Ray Galloway of North Yorkshire Police said: “John Stamford brutally and callously murdered Gary Virr. He left his battered and bloodied body in the flat for several days before Gary was discovered by the police following concerns for his welfare.

“Although we may never know the exact reasons which led Stamford to commit murder, I just hope Gary’s family can find some measure of comfort and closure in the conviction of his killer.”

District Crown Prosecutor Jan Hills said: “This was a savage and senseless attack on a vulnerable man in his own home, by a person he had thought of as his friend.

“Stamford subjected Gary to a systematic and brutal assault. Twenty-seven separate sites of injury were found on the body. We have worked closely with North Yorkshire Police to build up a robust prosecution case to put before the jury. I hope today’s verdict brings some small measure of comfort to Gary’s grieving family.”

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A statement released on behalf of Mr Virr’s family read: “Since his untimely death in December 2010, we have continued grieving for his loss.

“The family have all been inconsolable in our grief over his passing and cannot begin to comprehend the reason why he was taken from us in such a way he never deserved.

“On hearing the evidence in court of how Gary died, we consider this was an act carried out in a way that was cruel, wicked and so totally unnecessary.

We are all now left with feeling empty inside along with a feeling of utter disgust towards John Stamford.”