A man who stabbed his long-term love rival to death has been sentenced to life in prison.
Ashley King, 29, knifed doorman Gareth Atkinson in the neck after ‘a long-standing dispute’ over two women.
Mr Atkinson, 25, was attacked in the doorway of his girlfriend Jade Walker-Saunders’ flat in Bentley Street, Lockwood, Huddersfield, on May 8 this year.
King claimed he acted in self-defence but a jury rejected his claims and found him guilty of murder following a 10 day trial at Leeds Crown Court.
During the trial, the jury heard how Mr Atkinson asked a close friend to go over to Miss Walker Saunders’ flat to pick her up because she had been “s****g’ another man all night”.
Mr Khan said Mr Atkinson also said he could not go back to the flat himself as the other man would stab him.
Mr Justice Nicklin jailed the 29-year-old for life in prison with a minimum term of 17 years.
Ashley King was sentenced to at least 17 years in prison (Image: Huddersfield Examiner/MEN MEDIA)
Man ‘stabbed long-term love rival to death with kitchen knife’ after ‘having sex all night with his girlfriend’
He told King that the pair’s shared relationship with Miss Walker-Saunders and another woman named Shaunie Haig became the focus of his rage against the popular doorman and culminated in his death.
He said: “It’s clear that you and Mr Atkinson did not like each other. From the text and social media messages I have seen you made the running and fuelled the dispute between you.
“I’m sure Mr Atkinson spent the last day of his life genuinely in fear that you were going to attempt to kill him.”
During the trial, the jury heard details of some 300 messages exchanged between King, Mr Atkinson and Miss Walker-Saunders.
On November 20, 2016 King sent the victim a text message telling him: “You’re f****d son.”
When Mr Atkinson asked him why he had not challenged him to a fight sooner, King told him: “You’re not mugging me off because of your job status” and then messaged him: “Just got off an attempted murder charge, I don’t need to be swinging in town.”
King messaged Mr Atkinson that he had no right to be in contact with Shaunie Haigh, another woman they had both been seeing.
He told him: “When I see you I’ll write you clean off, you f****** p*****.”
When Mr Atkinson refused to fight over a girl King replied: “I’ll end you the second I see you.”
But King threatened that he would “end his life” and bragged that he would win as Mr Atkinson was “always sniffed and p****d, a too easy target.”
The packed courtroom also heard heartbreaking statements from Mr Atkinson’s parents Michael and Helen and his sister Kirsty who told of her devastation at the 25-year-old missing her wedding following his death shortly before midnight on May 8.
King, of no fixed address, claimed during his trial that his threats to harm Mr Atkinson were just words and he only intended to settle their differences in the boxing ring.
But over an 18 month period King bombarded him with hundreds of messages which became “increasingly more strident in tone and more serious in threat”, Mr Justice Nicklin said.
Things came to a head on the day Mr Atkinson, from Meltham, was murdered when King turned up at Miss Walker-Saunders’ flat in Bentley Street.
Mr Justice Nicklin told King: “You stood outside the flat brandishing a truly horrible home made weapon.
“It was a pick axe handle and you had embedded some 40 screws in the upper third. The weapon was designed by you and if used would have created the most horrific injuries.”
King claimed that he was frightened of Mr Atkinson as he was known to carry knives.
But the judge rejected his claim that he intended to defend himself and stated that his own past convictions, including two robberies, highlighted his willingness to arm himself with knives.
He said: “Your actions were offensive, never defensive.
“You were shouting at Mr Atkinson: ‘Get out of here you f * g c**t, I’m going to kill him’.
“It is clear that Mr Atkinson was scared by your actions that afternoon and took your threats seriously.”
King sent the victim a further stream of threatening messages in the hours before his death and he was not expecting King to be at his girlfriend’s flat when he walked across the landing bare-footed with a can of lager and his phone in his hand late that night to see her.
Mr Justice Nicklin said: “Your account of Mr Atkinson trying to barge into the flat behind you and stabbing him by accident was rejected by the jury.
“They were sure you stabbed him deliberately. It was when he least expected it, he was an easy target.
“Once you knew it was Mr Atkinson you saw your chance. The circumstances of the stabbing, the injury you caused and the threats you made make me sure you intended to kill Mr Atkinson.”
The court was read victim impact statements from the victim’s family, who waited outside the courtroom during the sentencing hearing.
His sister Kirsty, who married a few months after his death, said: “I will never get over this.
“We would speak every day and now all I have is memories.
“This is my life now. No sibling, no uncle if I ever have children. I’ll never see him get married or be a dad. I’ll never get him back.”
Mr Atkinson’s father Michael said he’d lost his best friend as well as his son and his loss was never ending.
His mother Helen said: “No parent should ever have to bury their child. Every day is just another day, all merging into one.
“Exhaustion is the only way I sleep. When I do sleep I dream of my son Gareth, I wake up and for split seconds I believe he’s still alive. But the reality kicks in and my heart aches.”
Sentencing King to life in jail with a minimum term of 17 years before he is considered for release, Mr Justice Nicklin told him: “I reject, unequivocally, that this was Mr Atkinson coming at you or that he is in any way to blame. He did not even know you were there until you stabbed him.
“You were not defending yourself. You did not honestly believe that you needed to use force against Mr Atkinson at all that evening. You were the aggressor, not him.”
King’s sentence was welcomed by Det Chief Insp Ian Scott, who led the investigation.
He said: “King tried to evade the police and not take responsibility for what he had done.
“The violence King displayed towards Gareth is appalling; both verbally and through social media and his despicable actions on May 8, which resulted in Gareth suffering a fatal stab wound which he was unable to survive.”
In a statement issued by West Yorkshire Police, Mr Atkinson’s family said that his death had changed their lives dramatically.
They said: “Our loss is immense and is also not felt by us but by the many friends and colleagues he had.
“We respect the findings of the court and wish to extend our thanks to all those responsible for bringing the case to its conclusion.
“The loss of Gaz is forever, that is our sentence and there isn’t a day that passes that we don’t miss and long for his company.”