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Tuesday, April 27, 1999 Published at 18:09 GMT 19:09 UK


Students torched murdered friend

Two college students are awaiting sentence for the murder of the best friend who "got on their nerves".

They had repeatedly stabbed him in the chest and legs, before burning the body using barbecue fluid, and burying it in a shallow grave.

It took a jury at Maidstone, Kent, just over an hour to find 19-year-old Neil Sayers guilty of killing Russell Crookes on 14 May last year.

Graham Wallis, 18, of Croydon, Surrey, admitted his part in the murder and had named Sayers as his accomplice.

Prior to the killing, the three had been inseparable friends, with an interest in army survival techniques.

But the court heard how Wallis and Sayers of Gillingham, Kent, had made a pact to kill Russell Crookes, because they had seen him as a bully who'd been "getting on their nerves".

Focus on college

In returning their guilty verdict, the jury also gave the judge a statement expressing concern about the supervision of students at Hadlow Agricultural College in Kent.

Mr Justice Newman adjourned the case until 7 May after reading the statement out in open court. The defendants were remanded in custody.

"All members of the jury expressed their concern about the lack of supervision and adequate pastoral care of the under 18s resident at the college," he said.

"This brutal murder raises questions of the first importance touching both the defendants, their future lives in society, the interests and plight of Russell Crookes' family, the interests of the defendants' families, and the interests of Hadlow Agricultural College."

Further reports are to be compiled on the college before the judge passes sentence.

The detective who led the investigation said the motivation for the killing would remain speculation.

Detective Chief Inspector David Stevens said the most distressing aspect was how the two could have turned on Russell and brutally murdered him, when shortly before that they had been such good friends.

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