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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 April 2007, 16:02 GMT 17:02 UK
'Feral' boys jailed for killing
David Atherton with injuries
David Atherton was subjected to regular attacks
A pair of teenagers who repeatedly bullied and attacked a vulnerable man, before beating and tossing him into a river, have been jailed for life.

Craig Dodd, 17, and Ryan Palin, 15, pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of David Atherton, 40, who died last May.

Warrington Crown Court heard that Mr Atherton, who had learning difficulties and suffered alcoholism, was subjected to regular abuse by the pair.

The court heard Dodd and Palin described as "feral, wild and untamed".

Reporting restrictions, which would usually prevent the boys' names being published, were lifted by the judge.

Craig Dodd (left) and Ryan Palin
If one were to search for a single adjective to describe their behaviour, it would be feral
Patrick Harrington QC

Dodd and Palin were part of a teenage gang who preyed on vulnerable adults in Warrington, the court heard.

Mr Atherton, originally from Wigan, Greater Manchester, was forced into letting the gang use his flat to drink and smoke cannabis.

The teenagers subjected him to regular abuse and humiliation, which they called "terroring".

This included pouring drinks and food on to him, daubing his face with ink and make-up, burning his hair, urinating on him and vandalising his flat. It also included regular beatings.

Patrick Harrington QC, prosecuting, said: "The two defendants, often with others, were involved in a campaign of terror and violence directed at David Atherton.

"Ultimately - and almost inevitably - the result was that the two defendants killed Mr Atherton by beating him savagely and throwing him into the River Mersey."

David Atherton
Mr Atherton's beating was heard by a neighbour who tried to intervene

Mr Harrington described the lives of the two teenagers as "appalling".

He added: "If one were to search for a single adjective to describe their behaviour, it would be feral. They were wild and untamed."

The boys had been drinking and smoking cannabis when they visited Mr Atherton's flat in Howley, Warrington, on 8 May last year.

A neighbour heard them beating Mr Atherton, and invited him in, but he was led away by Dodd and Palin.

They later boasted to friends that they "winged him into the water", meaning they each held a leg and an arm then tossed him in.

Mr Justice Hodge sentenced Dodd and Palin to detention for life.

He told them: "Your conduct was reprehensible. You both treated Mr Atherton as a punch bag.

"What you did was not opportunistic. It was pre-meditated.

"It was a savage attack - cruel, brutal and vicious and on a very vulnerable man."

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