Mirfield murder trial latest: Accused man takes to the stand

MUCH MISSED: Josh Hirst.
MUCH MISSED: Josh Hirst.

A MAN accused of murdering a popular 20-year-old has given evidence in court.

Joe Church yesterday told jurors at Leeds Crown Court that he had purchased the knife with which Mr Hirst was stabbed after seeing friends from Mirfield’s London Park Estate sentenced at the same courthouse on the day Mr Hirst was killed.

Yesterday, Church took to the stand and said he bought the knife to use at work, in place of one he had lost a couple of weeks earlier.

He said Nadeem Rashid then picked Aaron Smith and himself from his home in Redlands Close, Mirfield, on the evening of August 3.

Church said they had no plans to go anywhere in particular and were driving towards Ravensthorpe when Smith told Rashid to pull up in Shillbank Lane, Mirfield.

Smith got out of the car and walked towards Hepworth Lane. Church said he did not know why Smith did this.

Church followed Smith up the street, telling Rashid he would be back in two minutes

Church said: “I asked [Smith] what was up. He just told me that he needed to talk to someone.”

They reached the corner of Grove Street and saw Josh Hirst by his car outside his house.

Smith walked towards Mr Hirst and told Church to wait at the end of the street, Church said.

He said Mr Hirst started walking away but was followed by Smith and a scuffle broke out.

Church said: “I saw that Aaron was a lot worse off. I decided to try and pull Josh off Aaron.”

He said the knife he had bought earlier fell out of his pocket when Mr Hirst threw him to the ground.

Church said he had intended to leave the knife at home earlier and had forgotten he still had it on him.

When Church got back to his feet, he saw the knife in Josh Hirst’s hand and tried to wrestle it from him, the court heard.

He said: “It wasn’t the fact that I wanted to take hold of it. It was more to get it away from me. I could have been stabbed or cut.”

Mr Hirst let go of the knife and went towards Smith, who was walking back towards Hepworth Lane, jurors were told.

Another scuffle broke out and Church, who had the knife in his hand, said he grabbed Mr Hirst in a bear hug.

Church said: “When I tried to grab him round the waist, that’s when I thought I had cut his back.”

Church’s barrister Paul Greaney QC said: “Had you meant to cut his back?”

Church replied: “No. As soon as I realised I had cut his back, I let go of Josh.”

He said he ran off with Smith after Mr Hirst let go of him and the pair were driven to Liversedge by Rashid. He said none of the defendants wore a balaclava at any point, though police later found three balaclavas with their DNA on them..

Mr Greaney said: “We know that Josh suffered a terribly serious injury to his neck. Do you know at what stage Josh suffered that injury?”

Church said: “No. I can only presume when he picked up the knife... in the struggle.”

Mr Greaney said: “As you left that scene, did you know that he had that awful injury to his neck?

Church said: “No.”

Later Church and Smith cleaned themselves up at a friend’s house and drove around disposing of evidence. Church said he was shocked and panicked when he heard Mr Hirst had died.

Church said he had been friends with Josh Hirst while they were at school and college, and they would go on nights out together.

He denied what happened to Josh Hirst had anything to do with trouble outside his own home in May that year, or the sentencing that took place in Leeds on the day he died.

Jurors heard that earlier in the evening Smith had sent a text message to someone asking for Josh Hirst’s number as the group drove around.

Church said he did not know Smith was looking for Mr Hirst’s number, which he had saved in his own phone. He also denied knowing that Smith wanted to find Mr Hirst.

Peter Joyce QC, for Smith, said Church knew that Smith wanted to find Mr Hirst to speak to him about threats Mr Hirst had made towards him.

Church said: “He never mentioned Josh, not at any point.”

Mr Joyce said: “He went down to speak to Josh and he was unarmed, unbalaclavaed [sic]. He was going to meet someone who he knew and who knew him, and he wanted to go alone.”

He then asked: “If you had stayed at the end of the street none of this would have happened, would it?” Church agreed.

Jamie Hill QC, for Rashid, said his defendant did not know there was going to be any trouble that night, and Church agreed.

Mr Hill said: “This whole thing had nothing whatsoever to do with Nadeem Rashid, did it?” Church again agreed.

Prosecutor Neil Davey QC accused Church of lying throughout his evidence and said he did intend to cause Mr Hirst serious harm.

He said: “Your defence to the charge of the murder of Josh Hirst is in effect that Josh Hirst stabbed himself.”

Church said: “In effect, yes.”

Mr Davey said: “I’m going to suggest that you have lied repeatedly through your evidence and you have invented stories in order to find innocent explanations for criminal evidence.”

Church said: “No, I haven’t.”

Church, 21, of Redlands Close, Mirfield; Smith, 19, of Saville Street, Emley, and Rashid, 21, of Lapwing View, Horbury, all deny murder and possessing an offensive weapon.

The case continues. Keeping checking the Reporter website for updates.