Violence at wake led to murder amid family feud, court told

Steven Willis, also known as Pickering, who was stabbed through the heart following a wake in Middlesbrough. Photo credit: Cleveland Police/PA Wire
Steven Willis, also known as Pickering, who was stabbed through the heart following a wake in Middlesbrough. Photo credit: Cleveland Police/PA Wire

A family feud that sparked violence at a wake led to murder when a young father was stabbed through the heart by his cousin in a "shameful episode of street violence", a court has heard.

Steven Willis, 27, was backing up his father John Pickering as he came under attack from three of his nephews outside his home in Middlesbrough, Teesside Crown Court heard.

Mr Willis had run out of the property with a samurai sword after his father was knifed but was quickly disarmed and was forcefully stabbed through the breastbone, jurors were told.

Mr Pickering's nephews Kieran Ibitson, 21, of Beresford Crescent, Thorntree, Dominic Pickering, 23, of Grinkle Avenue, Park End, and Mark Pickering, 32, of Greenham Close, Thorntree, deny murder and manslaughter, as do friends Jahmal Weaver, 22, of Rounton Green, Berwick Hills, and Jack Cross, 21, of Olney Walk, Park End.

There was a gasp from the public gallery as the jury was shown CCTV video of the violence that April night.

The prosecution said Ibitson took a knife to the confrontation and stabbed his bare-chested uncle and his 17-year-old cousin Lennon Pickering, and killed Mr Willis - John Pickering's son from a previous relationship.

Richard Wright QC, prosecuting, said the extended family had been at the funeral of Carol Olsen and trouble flared during the wake at Teesside Bridge Social Club in North Ormesby, which was the catalyst for the later, more serious violence.

He said: "The wake was well attended and in particular many members of the extended Pickering family were present.

"They are a large family and a large family with strong connection to Middlesbrough.

"By the end of the evening another member of that extended family, a young man called Steven Willis, would be dead.

"Before the end of the day he would be stabbed through the heart with considerable force as a shameful episode of street violence broke out between competing factions of that extended family."

There were long-running tensions between family members, in particular between John Pickering and his sister Susan Ibitson, as she did not like his wife Claire, the jury heard.

Mr Wright said the disputes were "undoubtedly petty" but started a chain of events which ended in murder.

At the wake John Pickering fought his nephew Mark and there was also violent contact with Ms Ibitson as he left the premises to go home with his sons, the court heard.

Mark Pickering did not consider the fight over, the court heard, and Kieran Ibitson was incensed by what happened to his mother, so a group was rounded up to challenge their uncle, Mr Wright said.

He said: "It is quite apparent that these five men were not popping round to see their Uncle John for a friendly social visit, they were mob handed having picked up other members of their team along the journey and they went for a violent confrontation.

"Settling the score with John Pickering was never going to be an easy task. He is a powerfully built man whose reputation was feared by all these defendants."

John and Mark Pickering were in contact before the confrontation, with the older man texting his nephew "Me and you now, let's go" and "come on big boy" in the minutes before they arrived.

Mr Wright said when the five young men pulled up outside Mr Pickering's house he was "stripped to the waist and ready to fight".

But it was not a fair fight as Ibitson was armed with a knife, Mr Wright said, which he used to stab his uncle in the torso from behind.

Rather than end the violence, that brought in Mr Pickering's sons and ended in Steven Willis's murder, the court heard.

Mr Wright said: "Steven Willis managed to stand and walk back into the house for a short while before he returned to the road and collapsed.

"He died there in the street within minutes from that devastating injury.

"At the same time the defendants, all five of the team together, were being driven away from the violence they had brought to Meadowcroft Road by Jahmal Weaver in Jack Cross's car."

The case continues.