Homeless in shock over brutal death in Hove

The Argus: Flowers laid at the murder scene Flowers laid at the murder scene

The events which preceded the discovery of a homeless man’s brutally battered body on Hove seafront are still shrouded in mystery. Reporters Kimberly Middleton and Ben Parsons look at the impact the murder of Lea Williams has had on the homeless community, as the police continue to hunt for his killer.

Last Monday evening (February 11) three people made a discovery they will never forget.

At 8.30pm, during their routine walk around Brighton and Hove checking on the city’s homeless, AntiFreeze charity volunteers reached the arches at Hove Pitch and Putt.

In the renowned spot frequented by rough sleepers lay Lea Williams’ battered body, covered by a duvet.

The 45-year-old had been repeatedly hit on the head and face with a heavy object.

In their first statement to the press, police said Mr Williams may have known his attacker. Behind the week of high-profile police investigation, thorough forensic investigation of the food wrappers, bedding and drink cans left in the arch and even searches in the shallow waters of the sea, the street community was left shocked.

Workers on the front line said the close-knit group of people who look out for each other has been hit hard.

Already vulnerable, sleeping under the stars on the cold, hard floor, without a door to lock to keep people out or shut themselves in, many homeless people say Mr Williams’ death has left them feeling even more exposed.

Scared on the streets

Homeless Bill Paton, 50, said: “It’s scary. Who’s next?

“I didn’t really know Lea. But it’s not a nice thing to happen to anyone.”

Another man, who did not want to be named, said: “We didn’t get on, me and Lea, but I wouldn’t want to see him dead.

“We’re all part of a community. Whoever did this deserves to go down.”

Sarah Mitchell, who manages the city’s Rough Sleepers Street Services relocation team, said Mr Williams’ death had shocked the homeless community.

Shocked and vulnerable

She said: “Lea kept himself to himself and isolated himself from the street community. He had very few friends.

“The impact of his death might not have been the same as if it was one of our more renowned clients.

“But it definitely was a shock and people are feeling vulnerable because of it.

“You wouldn’t want to know one of your fellow community members had had an ending like that, in such a violent way.

“There is a lot of normalisation that goes on with the street community, who are probably the most visible, yet invisible people in our community.

“If you’re a member of the street community the general public just walk past and don’t acknowledge you.

Abuse commonplace

“You are more likely to be a victim of crime than a perpetrator, but the homeless don’t report it to the police.

“If someone abuses them the response is, ‘Well what do you expect, I’m a rough sleeper’.

“Fighting isn’t an uncommon thing in the street community. There is a high level that can go on.”

She confirmed the rough sleepers team was working with two men who Mr Williams was friends with.

She said: “Whenever there’s any death of one of our service users we identify those particularly at risk or in need as a result to safeguard them and make sure they are getting support.

“It could be a drug-related death or it could be a murder. If people are distressed we can arrange for them to see counsellors. We have done that in the past.”

A hard, dangerous way to live

Julian Haddow, pictured below, is the project manager for AntiFreeze, part of homeless and educational charity Off The Fence.

His workers who made the horrific discovery a week ago have been kept anonymous for their safety and to allow them time to recover.

He said: “Living as a rough sleeper is very dangerous. People choosing this lifestyle need to be aware of the risks.

“There are many health risks – extreme weather conditions, as well as violent attacks by members of the public and in Lea Williams’ case, brutal murder.

“Here in the UK homeless people die 30 years before the national average, meaning that homeless men are dying at 47 and women at 43. Lea was aged 45 and drives this horrific national statistic home in a very real way.

“At Project Antifreeze we have sadly had seven men from the rough sleeping community die on the streets of Brighton and Hove in the past 12 months. All the other deaths were due to health reasons, such as heart failure, hypothermia and sickness, but this does not make it any easier to deal with.

The Argus: Julian Haddow

“We often get asked why people are homeless. As we befriend them and are allowed to be part of their lives, we get to know the often sad life stories that are behind the many men and women sleeping on our streets.

“We are always amazed by the incredible sense of community amongst the rough sleepers. They look out for each other and therefore a death hits the community hard.

"Sometimes the rough sleepers organise wakes on the seafront, where they can get together and mourn the loss of their friend, and we have had the privilege to be invited to these small gatherings in the past.

“Lea Williams’ death is tragic and he will be missed in our centre, on our night shifts and in the homeless community. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family at this sad time.

“We will remember Lea for his friendly face and for his requests for a ‘good-night prayer’ every night shift before we were allowed to leave the pitch and putt.”

The Lea Williams inquiry

Police  have been unable to find anyone who saw Lea between 8.45am on Sunday February 10 and 8.30pm on Monday February 11.

Without eyewitnesses, forensic evidence and the post-mortem could provide the best guess for the time of his death.

The body, the state of the blood found at the scene, and any leftover food or dirty crockery, could give a sense of how long he had lain undiscovered.

Officers have remained tight-lipped about the clues from the post-mortem.

But police chose to stage their witness appeal between 6pm and 8.30pm last night.

No murder weapon has been found, despite searches of Hove Lagoon and the beach.

Detectives say it is “certainly a possibility” that it has been thrown in the sea and washed away.
After Lea's death the killer covered him with a duvet.

Detective Chief Inspector Ian Pollard told The Argus: “It suggests his killer tried to hide him so he would not be found.”

Missing weapon

Officers have trawled the city agencies that work with homeless people to try to build up a picture of his acquaintances and whether anyone has gone missing.

Apart from the missing murder weapon, police will be analysing the mass of food, drink, bedding and clothing found in the alcove where Lea lived.

The scene of the crime may offer vital clues – microscopic hairs, fibres of clothing, or blood left by the killer.
And officers will be asking whether his lifestyle, the people he associated with or his recent movements may have been linked to his death.

As well as house-to-house inquiries at the properties overlooking the scene, they will be recovering CCTV to retrace Lea's movements in the hope they have caught the killer on tape.

All the information will be fed into the police's HOLMES computer database and cross-referenced.

And a major crime analyst will turn that evidence into a timeline. The gaps – or the coincidences – could throw up the lead which leads to justice being done.

Lea’s killer must be caught and brought to justice, say police

Last night (February 18) police went back to the scene to hand out flyers a week after the discovery of Lea Williams’ body.

Officers believe people holding vital information about the killing have not yet come forward.

By handing out flyers with information about his death and pictures of Mr Williams, police hope to jog their memories.

The Argus: Lea Williams

MURDER VICTIM: Lea Williams

Detective Inspector Wendy Burton said: “I would like to thank those members of the street community and local residents who knew Lea and have already contacted us.

“I cannot stress enough how important it is for anyone who knew Lea or knows why someone would want to inflict such horrendous injuries on him, to please get in touch. His killer must be caught and brought to justice.”

The last reported sighting of Mr Williams was on the morning of Sunday, February 10, in the alcove where he had been living for the past year.

Anyone with information should call 101, quoting Operation Depot, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

See the latest news headlines from The Argus:

More news from The Argus

Follow @brightonargus

The Argus: Daily Echo on Facebook - facebook.com/southerndailyecho Like us on Facebook

The Argus: Google+ Add us to your circles on Google+

Comments (12)

Please log in to enable comment sorting

4:12pm Tue 19 Feb 13

risingphoenix says...

maybe someone should be asking mike weatherly what the impact of his bill could have had on this 'incident'...?
maybe someone should be asking mike weatherly what the impact of his bill could have had on this 'incident'...? risingphoenix

4:32pm Tue 19 Feb 13

Caute3 says...

"Julian Haddow, is the project manager for AntiFreeze, part of homeless and educational charity Off The Fence....
He said: “Living as a rough sleeper is very dangerous. People choosing this lifestyle need to be aware of the risks."

People CHOOSE this lifestyle? And this from a project manager of a homeless charity? WTF?
"Julian Haddow, is the project manager for AntiFreeze, part of homeless and educational charity Off The Fence.... He said: “Living as a rough sleeper is very dangerous. People choosing this lifestyle need to be aware of the risks." People CHOOSE this lifestyle? And this from a project manager of a homeless charity? WTF? Caute3

5:04pm Tue 19 Feb 13

Joshiman says...

Stupid political statement about a bill.
This was a poor man murdered with a distraught family.The perpetrator should be caught and given life in prison with no parole.Also the majority do not choose this lifestyle.There are many reasons why people go homeless:divorce/ill
ness/bankruptcy/alco
holism etccc
Stupid political statement about a bill. This was a poor man murdered with a distraught family.The perpetrator should be caught and given life in prison with no parole.Also the majority do not choose this lifestyle.There are many reasons why people go homeless:divorce/ill ness/bankruptcy/alco holism etccc Joshiman

5:31pm Tue 19 Feb 13

theleftygiraffe says...

risingphoenix wrote:
maybe someone should be asking mike weatherly what the impact of his bill could have had on this 'incident'...?
Seconded.
[quote][p][bold]risingphoenix[/bold] wrote: maybe someone should be asking mike weatherly what the impact of his bill could have had on this 'incident'...?[/p][/quote]Seconded. theleftygiraffe

6:56pm Tue 19 Feb 13

gingerman74 says...

most poeple don't CHOOSE the lifestyle, it isnt a lifestyle. it can be hell out there. also the guy says "his distraught family"? where were they to help him before.no disrespect intended but having experienced that "lifestyle" myself in the past i would never leave a relative out there
most poeple don't CHOOSE the lifestyle, it isnt a lifestyle. it can be hell out there. also the guy says "his distraught family"? where were they to help him before.no disrespect intended but having experienced that "lifestyle" myself in the past i would never leave a relative out there gingerman74

7:08pm Tue 19 Feb 13

MIDNIGHT COWBOY says...

I think it should be a basic human right for everyone to have somewhere to safely live. What are local councils doing to help vulnerable homeless people? Just turning their backs and thinking they are alright Jack. Why doesn't The Argus put the council on the spot over the matter of homelessness? The people from the homeless charity should not be left to try and pick up the pieces.
I think it should be a basic human right for everyone to have somewhere to safely live. What are local councils doing to help vulnerable homeless people? Just turning their backs and thinking they are alright Jack. Why doesn't The Argus put the council on the spot over the matter of homelessness? The people from the homeless charity should not be left to try and pick up the pieces. MIDNIGHT COWBOY

10:11pm Tue 19 Feb 13

Wiggsy says...

All very sad; I remember when Lea and his family moved to Haywards Heath in the mid 80's.

R.I.P.
All very sad; I remember when Lea and his family moved to Haywards Heath in the mid 80's. R.I.P. Wiggsy

12:27am Wed 20 Feb 13

Corn Hill says...

RIP Mr Williams. In 2013 there is no need for anyone to be sleeping rough in a civilised, forward thinking country.

50k homeless people & 700k empty properties in England.
Shameful
RIP Mr Williams. In 2013 there is no need for anyone to be sleeping rough in a civilised, forward thinking country. 50k homeless people & 700k empty properties in England. Shameful Corn Hill

5:27am Wed 20 Feb 13

Freeloaders says...

gingerman74 wrote:
most poeple don't CHOOSE the lifestyle, it isnt a lifestyle. it can be hell out there. also the guy says "his distraught family"? where were they to help him before.no disrespect intended but having experienced that "lifestyle" myself in the past i would never leave a relative out there
Top post my friend.I lived it at just 17 & 18 and not much has changed to help people.Apart from these vile middle class make more money out of them,and then tell their friends what nice people they are at dinner parties.
[quote][p][bold]gingerman74[/bold] wrote: most poeple don't CHOOSE the lifestyle, it isnt a lifestyle. it can be hell out there. also the guy says "his distraught family"? where were they to help him before.no disrespect intended but having experienced that "lifestyle" myself in the past i would never leave a relative out there[/p][/quote]Top post my friend.I lived it at just 17 & 18 and not much has changed to help people.Apart from these vile middle class make more money out of them,and then tell their friends what nice people they are at dinner parties. Freeloaders

5:28am Wed 20 Feb 13

Freeloaders says...

Corn Hill wrote:
RIP Mr Williams. In 2013 there is no need for anyone to be sleeping rough in a civilised, forward thinking country.

50k homeless people & 700k empty properties in England.
Shameful
Outstanding post my friend.
[quote][p][bold]Corn Hill[/bold] wrote: RIP Mr Williams. In 2013 there is no need for anyone to be sleeping rough in a civilised, forward thinking country. 50k homeless people & 700k empty properties in England. Shameful[/p][/quote]Outstanding post my friend. Freeloaders

9:32am Wed 20 Feb 13

gingerman74 says...

Corn Hill wrote:
RIP Mr Williams. In 2013 there is no need for anyone to be sleeping rough in a civilised, forward thinking country.

50k homeless people & 700k empty properties in England.
Shameful
well said, i was homeless for year 8 yrs ago and because i had no address i was turned away by the council.couldnt sign on or get emergency accom. having paid tax my whole life it made me get it together, i emigrated 4 yrs ago as i and many others feel that the uk is more focused on helping everyone except their own...very shamefull indeed
[quote][p][bold]Corn Hill[/bold] wrote: RIP Mr Williams. In 2013 there is no need for anyone to be sleeping rough in a civilised, forward thinking country. 50k homeless people & 700k empty properties in England. Shameful[/p][/quote]well said, i was homeless for year 8 yrs ago and because i had no address i was turned away by the council.couldnt sign on or get emergency accom. having paid tax my whole life it made me get it together, i emigrated 4 yrs ago as i and many others feel that the uk is more focused on helping everyone except their own...very shamefull indeed gingerman74

9:46am Wed 20 Feb 13

mimseycal says...

gingerman74 wrote:
Corn Hill wrote:
RIP Mr Williams. In 2013 there is no need for anyone to be sleeping rough in a civilised, forward thinking country.

50k homeless people & 700k empty properties in England.
Shameful
well said, i was homeless for year 8 yrs ago and because i had no address i was turned away by the council.couldnt sign on or get emergency accom. having paid tax my whole life it made me get it together, i emigrated 4 yrs ago as i and many others feel that the uk is more focused on helping everyone except their own...very shamefull indeed
As long as we keep moving further and further into a tick-box, value for money, society run by auditors for audits sake it won't get any better.
[quote][p][bold]gingerman74[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]Corn Hill[/bold] wrote: RIP Mr Williams. In 2013 there is no need for anyone to be sleeping rough in a civilised, forward thinking country. 50k homeless people & 700k empty properties in England. Shameful[/p][/quote]well said, i was homeless for year 8 yrs ago and because i had no address i was turned away by the council.couldnt sign on or get emergency accom. having paid tax my whole life it made me get it together, i emigrated 4 yrs ago as i and many others feel that the uk is more focused on helping everyone except their own...very shamefull indeed[/p][/quote]As long as we keep moving further and further into a tick-box, value for money, society run by auditors for audits sake it won't get any better. mimseycal

Comments are closed on this article.

click2find

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree