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Friday, April 23, 1999 Published at 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK


Bus driver jailed for boy's murder

Darren Vickers (right) befriended Jamie's father, John (left)

A bus driver who wheedled his way into the life of a couple after their eight-year-old son went missing has been jailed for life for the boy's murder.

The BBC's Kevin Bocquet: "Vickers tried to manipulate the family and even the police"
A jury at Manchester Crown Court found Darren Vickers, 28, guilty of the abduction and murder of Jamie Lavis following a seven-week trial.

Vickers befriended the boy on his bus as it drove around Manchester, took him to a wood near Stockport and killed him.

Judge Mr Justice Forbes, who said he believed Vickers had sexually abused Jamie before killing him, called Vickers "truly wicked".

Describing Jamie in his grandmother's words as "a streetwise but lovely little boy", he said the youngster's life ended because he had the tragic misfortune of boarding the bus driven by Vickers.

Jamie's mother, Karen Spooner, said she felt relief and hatred for Vickers.

'Children will be safer'

She said: "Jamie can rest in peace now. We have got what we wanted.

"I hope he (Vickers) suffers like I have suffered with my family for the last two years.

"No child deserved to die the way Jamie died and hopefully now Darren Vickers is in prison, children in Manchester will be safer."

Jamie went missing from his home in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, on 5 May 1997 but his body was not discovered for five months.

Befriended family

During that time Vickers ingratiated himself into the lives of Jamie's parents and pretended to play a leading role in the search for the youngster when all the time he knew where the boy's body lay.

The BBC's Michelle Clifford reports on Vickers' behaviour in the wake of Jamie's disappearance
Only his torso and jaw bone were found at the scene - his head and limbs were never recovered and such was the decomposition of the remains that police were unable to ascertain how he had died.

But the fact that Jamie's clothes had been removed, and the friendship between Vickers and a convicted paedophile, led officers to believe he may have been sexually assaulted.

The trial was told how Vickers allowed Jamie to change gears and hand out tickets on his bus as it headed towards Stalybridge on the day he died, a Bank Holiday.

Passengers saw Vickers ruffle the boy's blond hair, and another driver saw Jamie with his face pressed against the window of the driver's cabin.

Karen Spooner talks to reporters after the verdict: "I just want to get home to my family"
Police believe that at the end of his shift, Vickers took the boy to woods at Reddish Vale golf course, where he killed him.

He then ingratiated himself with Jamie's family, partly to cover his own tracks and partly out of morbid fascination with the investigation process.

In the witness box he claimed to have had an affair with Jamie's mother, Karen Spooner, in the months following the boy's disapparance.

Ms Spooner denied his claims that they had sexual intercourse.

During the high-profile search for Jamie, Vickers was filmed for TV news bulletins comforting his victim's family and appealing for information.

He used a scanner to monitor police radio calls and would turn up at places where Jamie was reported to have been sighted before investigating officers.

Suspect from start

While Vickers was in jail on remand he told a cellmate that Jamie had died after hitting his head on the bus and said he dumped his body in panic.

But Brian Leveson QC, prosecuting, said that was a "sanitised" version of Jamie's death.

Vickers also tried to deflect blame by pointing the finger at Jamie's father, John Lavis.

Det Chief Supt Roy Rainford said after the case that Vickers was a major suspect from the start of the investigation, despite his attempts to ingratiate himself with Jamie's family.

As the inquiry progressed, all the evidence kept pointing to the bus driver.

Pointed finger at father

Mr Rainford said in his experience Vickers' methods of trying to cover his tracks were unique.

"I think his motive is one of manipulation and control, but his ultimate aim is something we can only speculate about," he said.

Mr Justice Forbes praised the police and also picked out for praise two youngsters, Ashley Dair and Zoe Austin who helped the police track down the killer.

The judge awarded them 150 each from public funds.

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