A teenager caught up in a street brawl which ended in the fatal stabbing of his brother said he wanted the knifeman “to kill me instead of my dad”.
Lennon Pickering described the “nightmare” which unfolded outside his home on Meadowcroft Road, Normanby on the night of April 16.
He said he and his half-brother Steven Willis, 27, were both “sticking up for my dad” when Mr Willis was knifed to death after a wake.
He said his father John, 45, had been told in a phone call “we’re coming and all three of youse have had it”, murder trial jurors heard.
He told how a silver Fiesta car arrived with a screech and five men, including three of his cousins Mark and Dominic Pickering and Kieran Ibitson, got out at about 10.20pm.
“I didn’t know there was going to be that many of them,” he told officers in a video interview played to the jury at Teesside Crown Court on Friday.
Blade pulled out of ‘manbag’
He, his father and his half-brother Steven Willis went outside.
“I’ve followed my dad,” said Lennon, then 17.
“I wanted to be there for him.”
Ibitson is accused of stabbing all three – his uncle and two cousins – killing Mr Willis as he went to his dad’s aid with a wound to the heart.
Lennon Pickering said Ibitson told them “if you try to hurt my mam youse are all dead” or “you’ve hurt my mam, youse have had it”.
He said Ibitson pulled a knife with a six to seven-inch blade out of a “manbag” and ran at his dad.
“He wanted to kill him. I know he wanted to kill him,” said Lennon.
‘I didn’t want it to be my dad. I’d rather it be me’
He said he exchanged blows with Dominic Pickering and kicked Ibitson to get him away from his father.
“I thought if anyone’s going to get stabbed I didn’t want it to be my dad. I’d rather it be me.
“I ran in front of him (John Pickering). I didn’t want him to fight. I thought, I’m going to fight youse first to protect him. I’m not letting youse gang up on him.
“I wanted him to kill me instead of my dad.
“He was going to stab my dad in the neck or something. I booted him as hard as I could.”
‘I didn’t expect anyone to pull a knife’
He said Ibitson turned around and stabbed him in the back, and he fell to the ground while Dominic Pickering and Jahmal Weaver were punching and kicking him to the head, leaving him with a burst eardrum.
He added: “I crawled off on my hands and knees. The reality hadn’t kicked in that I’d been stabbed.
“It’s not like I wanted to fight my family. I never asked for any of this to happen.
“In the end I’m always going to protect my dad. We were sick of our dad being pushed in a corner.
“But I didn’t ever, ever expect anyone to pull a knife out on me.
“I was just protecting my dad.”
‘I thought they’d killed my dad’
He said he could not tell who stabbed his father as he laid against a wall and lamppost, bleeding, confused and unable to move.
“I was still protecting my family, my brother and my dad,” he said.
“I felt helpless.
“I heard a scream when I was on the floor. My dad screaming. I’ve never heard a grown man scream like that before. I thought they’d killed my dad.
“I was actually crying on the floor while it was happening. It was like a nightmare.”
Dad ‘screamed Steven’s name’
Lennon said he did not see how Steven was injured, but saw him on the floor.
“All I could hear was my dad’s voice, screaming Steven’s name. I knew something was up.
“I was shouting ‘save me’.”
He said he assumed Mark had killed Steven as he had attacked him and they wrestled for a samurai sword.
He said he hit the floor and remembered nothing afterwards.
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He described the melee as “like a scrum, like a brawl”, saying: “We all got battered off everyone.
“They must have wanted all three of us.
“They targeted each one of us… They were a gang.
“It all happened very quickly. Whatever they’ve planned to do, they knew what they had to do.
“They must have thought I was dead. That’s why they left me.
“It seemed like it was targeted and planned and talked about beforehand.”
Wanted to protect dad ‘whatever the costs’
He said he was sick of people “bullying my dad”.
“I was absolutely fed up with it,” he added.
“I was willing to protect my dad whatever the costs were that day.
“I wanted to make the statement that I was going to protect my dad.
“At the end of day they were family. I never ever in a million years thought they’d try and kill me and my dad and my brother.”
He said Jack Cross, one of the men accused of murder, stayed in the car and he did not consider him a threat.
What the prosecution say happened on day Steven Willis died
Funeral wake at Teesside Bridge Club
Members of the extended Pickering family gathered at the North Ormesby club following a funeral.
Prosecutor Richard Wright QC said John Pickering, the father of Steven Willis, fought with his nephew, the defendant Mark Pickering inside the venue.
A “shirtless” John Pickering also had “violent physical contact” with his sister Susan Ibitson, mother of defendant Kieran Ibitson, outside the wake.
John Pickering left and went to his home in Normanby, stopping en route to buy beer.
Search at Jovial Monk pub
Later, defendant Dominic Pickering and another man “searched” the North Ormesby pub for Steven Willis before leaving in a Ford Fiesta, belonging to co-accused Jack Cross.
Change of clothes and another pick-up
The Crown says the men then went to the home of Mark Pickering on College Road, Thorntree, so he could change his clothes.
They went on to collect co-accused Jahmal Weaver, jurors heard.
The prosecution say the five gathered together as “a team” as they planned to go and take on John Pickering and his fearsome reputation.
‘Scene of devastation’ at Meadowcroft Road
Jurors were told how the defendants got out of the car and John Pickering came out of his house “stripped to the waist and ready to fight”.
Kieran Ibitson stabbed John Pickering, an act that “fuelled” further violence.
Steven Willis emerged from the house wielding a samurai sword. He was disarmed by Mark and Dominic Pickering before Ibitson used his weapon again, the court heard.
Prosecutor Mr Wright said: “This time he drove the blade of the knife… through the breastbone of Steven Willis with what must have been considerable force so that the blade penetrated his heart.”
The alleged attackers left Meadowcroft Road and stayed together afterwards.
The prosecution say they first went to Kieran Ibitson’s home on Beresford Crescent, Thorntree.
‘Weapon disposed of at Fleet House’
Kieran Ibitson next went to flats at Fleet House on Cargo Fleet Lane, changed his clothes and disposed of the weapon, the court heard.
It was later recovered by police from another flat in the building, wrapped in a towel bearing Jahmal Weaver’s DNA.
First police interviews
As word filtered out that Mr Willis had died and a murder investigation was under way, the men surrendered or were arrested.
They were each interviewed by police.
Five Middlesbrough men – Ibitson, 21, of Beresford Crescent, Thorntree; Dominic Pickering, 23, of Grinkle Avenue, Park End; Mark Pickering, 32, of Greenham Close, Thorntree; Cross, 21, of Olney Walk, Park End; and Weaver, 22, of Rounton Green, Berwick Hills – deny Mr Willis’ murder and manslaughter.
They also deny wounding with intent to cause serious harm.