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Dancer was clubbed to death by duo looking for trouble
“Lonely factory worker Frederick Phillips sought the spotlight as a solo disco dancer.
“But he will be remembered as the victim of one of the most gruesome killings in Sussex criminal history.”
So began the Evening Argus’s report on the murder of 25-year-old Frederick Phillips.
He had a mental age of 12, worked in a factory in Littlehampton and lived with his half-sister and her family.
He came alive on the dance floor, drawing applause at the height of the Saturday Night Fever craze with his John Travolta-style dancing.
But he met his end on October 14, 1978, when Paul Wading and David Pankhurst saw him walking through the town after a night at the Red Lion in Selbourne Road.
The pair had gone out expecting trouble. They were armed with two iron bars from a keep-fit weightlifting set.
When they did not get into a fight at the bar, they set out to mug Mr Phillips. At 2.55am they sprang upon him in Gloucester Road and clubbed him to death.
The exact time of his death was established by his wristwatch, which was smashed as he raised his arm to ward off the pair’s blows.
Wading and Pankhurst took the watch and his wallet. They dumped his body on waste ground in Albert Road and flung their meagre haul, together with the iron bars, into the River Arun at Fisherman’s Quay.
Wading went home to his parents, who ran a bakery in Wick Street, telling his mother his clothes were soaked with blood because he had been fighting.
He was a petty criminal who had drifted from job to job, including a stint in the Navy, before becoming a painter and decorator.
Pankhurst, of Norfolk Road, was a violent veteran of borstal who was on parole at the time of the killing. He too had failed to stick at a single job, working as a lorry driver’s mate, fishmonger, fairground attendant and amusement arcade worker.
Police initially thought Mr Phillips had been knocked down by a car and his body robbed, possibly to conceal his identity.
But the truth came to light when Wading’s mother sent his bloody blue jeans to be dry-cleaned. The manageress of the dry cleaner called police, who arrested Wading and Pankhurst.
Pankhurst helped the police recover the stolen property and murder weapon. Wading admitted murder on the first day of their trial at Lewes Crown Court in May 1979.
He gave evidence against Pankhurst, who denied murder. He claimed he was there during the attack but did not deliver any of the lethal blows. But a jury took only four-and-a-half hours to convict him.
Judge Peter Pain passed the mandatory life sentence on both.