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Richard Bilton reports for BBC News
""Robert's was a reclusive loner"
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BBC's Matt Smith at Norwich Crown Court
"A black cloud descended on the village when Thomas's body was found"
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Wednesday, 8 December, 1999, 17:37 GMT
Shopkeeper convicted of schoolboy's murder
Kevan Roberts Kevan Roberts was sentenced to life in prison

A shopkeeper who lusted after teenage boys has been convicted of murdering 12-year-old Thomas Marshall.

Kevan Roberts was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty by a jury at Norwich Crown Court.

Sentencing Roberts, Judge Mr Justice Smedley said any recommendation he made for a minimum jail term would be in double figures.

"There is only one sentence I can pass," the judge told Roberts. "You have been found guilty by the jury of strangling to death a young boy of 12.

Thomas Marshall: Strangled in Roberts' flat Thomas Marshall: Strangled in Roberts' flat
"You described him to a witness as 'not an angel'. "I have no doubt he was not - very few 12-year-olds are.

"But he didn't deserve to die in the appalling way you treated him."

Roberts showed little emotion as he was led out of the dock, but there were gasps from members of Thomas's family.

Thomas's parents, John and Carol Marshall, who were not in court for the verdict, said their initial reaction to Roberts' conviction was "relief".

Roberts' guilt was confirmed by the discovery of a single bead found in a sink-trap at his Norfolk home 13 months after Thomas died.

It was identical to a bead missing from a shoelace-type choker necklace which Thomas was wearing on the night he disappeared.

The schoolboy vanished after cycling away from his home in Happisburgh, Norfolk, at 5.45pm on 21 August 1997.

He said he was going to visit a friend but when he was late coming home his parents rang the friend and found out he had never arrived. They immediately called 999.

You described him as 'not an angel'. I have no doubt he was not - but he didn't deserve to die in the appalling way you treated him.
Judge Mr Justice Smedley
Norfolk police launched one of their biggest ever searches and one of his friends found his reddish-pink mountain bike, which had been taken apart, at Brunstead Common at 3pm the following day.

A couple of hours later a passer-by discovered Thomas's body in a layby at Rowdham Heath, near Thetford 50 miles away. It was a spot often frequented by homosexuals.

Police spoke to thousands of people, set up roadblocks and interviewed several suspects but a year after Thomas's death police appeared to have drawn a blank.

The inquiry, which cost 1.6m in its first year, finally succeeded following Roberts' arrest in September 1998.

The bead was found in the sink-trap during a search of his flat, above his shop.

Hopes faded

Roberts, who was also having a homosexual relationship with his married cousin at the time of Thomas's death, told police he had a predilection for teenage boys.

Twenty pornographic videos, some of which had been made in Roberts' flat, were found at his home.

But Roberts denied having had any sort of relationship with the boy.

Charles Wide QC, prosecuting, told the trial Thomas got to know Roberts, who ran a convenience store in nearby Eccles, a couple of months before his death.

He said Thomas and a friend would steal cigarettes and tobacco from the shop, and on one occasion the shopkeeper admitted he was gay when asked by Thomas.

Mr Wide said: "During the summer of 1997 Thomas went to the shop and something of a sexual nature happened between Mr Roberts and Thomas.

"Precisely what, the prosecution cannot say. Only two people were present and one of them is dead."

'Street-wise but immature'

But he told the jury: "You may however come to the conclusion that Thomas was street-wise enough to try to exploit the situation but not so mature as to realise what he might be getting himself into."

The shopkeper told detectives he had tried to discourage the boys from visiting but at times felt he was "losing control".

Police believe Thomas may have threatened to expose his relationship with Roberts, who strangled him and dumped his body in the layby.

Carol Marshall said the family planned to honour Thomas's memory by building a memorial staircase to the top of St Mary's church, in Happisburgh, where his funeral service was held.

Tuesday would have been Thomas's 15th birthday.
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08 Dec 99 |  UK
Tell-tale bead trapped killer
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