Boy, 4, who saw dad’s road rage murder ‘relives horror when he gets into family’s car’

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Little Harry Stokoe was just only four when his dad James, 40, was stabbed to death by a complete stranger as the court heard how the young lad is traumatised from that day

James Stokoe with his son Harry who was four when he witnessed his dad's murder
James Stokoe with his son Harry who was four when he witnessed his dad’s murder

The little boy who witnessed his father’s murder in a road rage attack relives the horror at the scene of the crime, a court heard today.

Harry Stokoe was just four years old when his dad James, 40, was stabbed to death by a complete stranger.

Alexander Layton, 34, was jailed for life with a minimum 23-year term as James’ family spoke of their ‘unimaginable’ loss.

The two men had a row when Mr Stokoe had to brake suddenly as Layton crossed Trenchard Avenue in Thornaby, Teesside on May 15 last year.

Layton was captured on CCTV and Dashcam by passing motorists when he plunged the 12in kitchen knife six times into Mr Stokoe as Harry sat in a car seat in the back of the BMW.

Alexander Layton, 34, was jailed for life with a minimum 23-year term
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PA)

Peter Makepeace QC, prosecuting, told Teesside crown court there were several aggravating factors in the case, including the impact of the crime on Harry at such a young age.

“The offence was committed in the presence of the victim’s four-year-old son,” he said. “In the victim impact statement of his mother Alex Stokoe, she told of her son’s inability to stay in the car as it drives down Trenchard Avenue because he had so many memories of the traumatic events.”

James Stokoe died at the scene after he was stabbed to death in a silver BMW last year
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Andy Commins / Daily Mirror)

Harry is also fearful if anyone approaches an open window of a car, the court heard.

Heartbroken mum Alex, a university lab technician, watched proceedings via a video link as she felt unable to attend in person, Mr Makepeace said.

Instead, he read out her moving victim impact statement.

She wrote: “James will be remembered and loved as long as I breathe. Our son will always know what a wonderful father James was and how much he loved him.”

James and Alex got married in the Dominican Republic
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PA)

She told how she was a single mother at 34, not because she chose to be, but because her husband had been ‘torn away from us’.

She said: “I will never be able to accept referring to James in the past tense. He should be here.”

Explaining to her son that his dad ‘would not be coming home again’ was the most painful moment of her life, she added.

She said: “A child should not be frightened when the car window is open in case someone comes to hurt them.

Flowers were placed at Trenchard Avenue in Thornaby near to where James was killed
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Evening Gazette)

“I now face life as a 34-year-old widow. I have lost not just my husband but my best friend and soulmate, he was everything to me.

“To tell your four-year-old that his daddy is dead and won’t be coming home is truly the most horrendous, painful moment of my life.

“To know your child has seen things that no child should ever have to see or hear.

“To explain the process of death and how James died. Funeral, cremation the finality of it all, so our son could understand what was happening around him.

“Harry accepts as much as a child of that age can, that his daddy is dead, that he isn’t coming back.”

She told Layton: “Harry has needed therapy because of the trauma that you have caused.”

In a heart-rending testimony, James’ mother Doreen told how she had lost her only child.

Her world had been changed forever on the day she lost her ‘amazing’ son, who loved his family with all his heart, ‘his hopes and dreams for the future never to be realised’.

Sentencing Layton to life imprisonment, His Honour Judge Howard Crowson said he had inflicted eight serious injuries to his victim as he sat in the front seat of his car, unable to defend himself.

“James Stokoe was a happy, successful husband, father and son,” he added. “His four-year-old son was in the rear of the car…and is still in fear of another attack.”

Layton had a history of violence, including attacks on his own mother.

Temporary Det Supt Helen Barker of Cleveland Police said after the case: “This was a shocking incident which occurred in the presence of James’ young son, which will undoubtedly have had a huge effect on him.

“The death of James has had a traumatic impact on his whole family.”

James was a “much loved” dad to his little boy and was married in the Dominican Republic.

The popular graduate of Teesside University was a keen footballer, a motorbike enthusiast and worked in the motor industry.

At the time of his death, friends paid tribute to a “gentle giant” who was affectionately known as “Big Red.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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