Thugs jailed for murder of student on night out
TWO thugs who killed “a thoroughly decent lad” in a night of mindless violence have been jailed for life.
Zion Covey, 21, will serve a minimum of 13 years and 20-year-old Gareth Powell 12 years before being considered for parole.
The drunken pair punched and kicked student Ben Neilson, 21, of Essella Road, Willesborough, outside the Fountain kebab shop in Ashford town centre on April 20.
Covey, of Lynsted Close, Stanhope, Ashford, and Powell, of Bensted, South Ashford, were convicted of murder by a 10-2 majority verdict.
They had denied the charge, along with an alternative of manslaughter.
Passing sentence, Judge Anthony Leonard QC said Covey played the leading role, while Powell backed up his friend.
“Ben went out with his friends for the evening for fun and enjoyment, during which, in my judgement, he showed no aggression and did not drink very much,” he told them.
“It all came to an end when you attacked him. In contrast, you had been drinking heavily. One witness described you, Covey, as being ‘hammered’.”
The judge said they were spoiling for a fight by the time they left Liquid nightclub in the early hours and went to the kebab shop.
“Ben tried to calm you down and became a victim of your aggression and violence,” he said.
“Kicking him on the ground was not only despicable, but showed your intention to cause him serious injury that night.”
Judge Leonard said Ben was in the top 10 per cent at university and had a promising career ahead of him. He will be awarded a posthumous degree.
“I am conscious no sentence I pass will make up for the loss of his life,” he added.
Seven months spent on remand will count towards the duo’s sentences.
The judge said Covey and Powell were involved in a series of aggressive acts during the evening. CCTV at the kebab shop showed that even their own friends were having trouble keeping them under control.
Ben was punched three or four times and there were about two kicks as he lay helpless and unconscious on the ground.
Judge Leonard said even Covey had described it as “gratuitous violence”.
He had written a letter expressing his remorse and the judge said he had no doubt Powell felt the same way.
Judge Leonard said he had decided to make a distinction between the two because Covey played the leading role and Powell was slightly younger.
The minimum tariff was set on the basis of an intention to cause really serious bodily harm, rather than to kill, and a lack of premeditation. The judge added that such violence in a public place which led to death was a problem which bedevilled town centres such as Ashford.
Covey and Powell, both dressed in tracksuit bottoms and casual shirts, showed no emotion when sentence was passed.
Family and supporters of Covey and Powell wept, while Ben’s family and friends remained silent.
Covey had previous convictions for dishonesty, criminal damage and assault causing actual bodily harm. Powell had no previous convictions.
Jonathan Higgs, prosecuting, said the former Norton Knatchbull School pupil was struck a heavy blow to the head and was believed to be unconscious by the time he hit the ground. He was then kicked by both Covey and Powell.
Ben was taken to hospital “in a terrible state” and died a week later from catastrophic and irreversible brain damage.
Covey denied being responsible for the blow that caused Ben’s death. Powell did not give evidence.
The funeral of Ben Neilson: ‘To understand what we have lost, you really needed know Ben,’ said his parents
JAILED: Gareth Powell – helped his friend with attack
JAILED: Zion Covey - spoiling for a fight
VICTIM: Ben Neilson, 21, who was fatally injured