Background: Mirfield murderers’ links to London Park

One of the most chilling details to emerge from the Josh Hirst murder trial is that Josh was friends with his killer Joe Church as a teenager.

Monday, 25th February 2013, 11:00 am
Joe Church, in the grey long-sleeve top, buys the murder weapon.
Joe Church, in the grey long-sleeve top, buys the murder weapon.

The pair met through a mutual friend when they were around 13 and Church, who then lived in Batley, was a pupil at the Mirfield Free Grammar.

Church told the court that they used to hang around together on a field near where Josh lived and occasionally visited each other’s homes.

After they finished school, they went to the same college in Huddersfield, spending break times together, and went out drinking together in Batley.

But when he turned 18, Church said he stopped drinking and saw less of Josh. This was shortly after Church had met Aaron Smith, from Mirfield’s London Park Estate.

Church became firm friends with Smith and visited him in custody after he was jailed in December 2011 for robbing a taxi driver in Mirfield with 22-year-old Wade McLean, also from London Park Estate.

During the trial into Josh’s death, the court heard how there was “bad blood” between Josh and the “London Parkers”, as he referred to them.

In a statement, Josh’s girlfriend Lauren Pachniuk described an incident in which the couple were threatened by a man with a baseball bat in Liversedge.

Josh thought this was linked to a friend of a friend being beaten up by someone from London Park, Miss Pachniuk said.

In May last year, Church’s house was targeted by a group of men who used baseball bats and other weapons to smash doors and windows and injure his sister.

A white car was seen near the house, which borders London Park, and Church admitted jumping to the conclusion that it was Josh’s white Audi.

The next day, Josh’s father’s pickup truck had its windows smashed, though in court Church said he did not know who was responsible

He accepted that Josh had nothing to do with the incident at his home in Redlands Close.

Hours before they murdered Josh on August 3 last year, Church and Smith had been at Leeds Crown Court to see five of their friends sentenced.

The defendants – Nathan McCarthy, Liam McCarthy, Jordan Watkinson, Jamie Evans and a youth – were notorious troublemakers on London Park Estate.

All were jailed for offences including robbery, attempted robbery, affray and possession of drugs with intent to supply.

Watkinson and Nathan McCarthy had previously been convicted of affray for being part of a group who threw stones and bricks at police.

Watkinson was banned from London Park and the McCarthys were told in August that they would also be banned from the estate upon their release. Church and Smith were not the only people in the public gallery at that hearing in August – Liam McCarthy’s girlfriend Rachel Secker joined them, as did Jamie Evans’ girlfriend, Lizzie Barker.

Secker, 18, was barred from her London Park home after she was convicted of possessing class B drugs MCat and cannabis with intent to supply.

Miss Barker, meanwhile, was a key witness at the trial into Josh’s murder – after Josh was stabbed, Church and Smith went to the house in Huddersfield she had shared with Evans to clean themselves up.

The court heard how some days earlier Smith had bought a knife from a shop in Leeds and had accidentally left it at Miss Barker’s house in Mitchell Avenue, Waterloo.

This, however, was not the knife that was used to kill Josh, though the murder weapon was bought from the same shop in Leeds, Fantasia.

The knife that killed Josh was bought by Church within an hour of him seeing his friends from London Park jailed at the crown court where he and Smith were sentenced on Thursday.