Murder accused watched co-defendants fatally attack his love rival in Rotherham lay-by, court told

Craig Preston's body was found by dog walkers near to the Woodhead Pass on the morning of August 22, 2016.
Craig Preston's body was found by dog walkers near to the Woodhead Pass on the morning of August 22, 2016.

A man accused of murdering his love rival in a Rotherham lay-by says he watched as his co-defendants fatally beat him while he shouted for them to stop, a court has heard.

Giving evidence at Sheffield Crown Court today, Shiraz Bashir told the court that he had arranged to come to a lay-by in Town Lane, Rotherham on the evening of August 21 last year to 'confront' Craig Preston.

The 42-year-old said that when he had previously attempted to confront Mr Preston over problems stemming from them both being in an on-and-off again relationship with Leonie Mason, 23, he had 'run away'.

The court was read transcripts of text messages sent between Bashir, of Holme Park Court, Huddersfield, and one of three 15-year-old boys also charged with Mr Preston's murder, none of whom can be named for legal reasons.

Among the messages Bashir sent to the boy, Boy A, in the hour leading up to Mr Preston being murdered at around midnight that evening was: "Don't chicken out, make it happen. It's now or never."

When asked about the message, Bashir said he was referring to his chance to finally confront Mr Preston, adding: "I just wanted it over with."

Boy A later sent Bashir a message saying: "I'll punch him [Craig] in the face from behind, Boy B will get out and punch him."

Bashir told the court this was the first time he was told punching Mr Preston was part of the plan.

The court heard how Mason pulled up in her Vauxhall Astra carrying Mr Preston, Boy A and Boy B at around 11.50pm.

Shortly afterwards Boy A got out of the car, walked over to him and said 'Craig's here,' before walking back over to Mason's car where Mr Preston was still sat, Bashir told the court.

He added: "He [Boy A] punched Craig a couple of times on his head."

Bashir said two strangers who were later identified to him as being Boy C and Boy D, who has not been charged with Mr Preston's murder and also cannot be named for legal reasons, suddenly appeared from bushes near to where he was standing.

Boy D appeared with a stick that he went to hit Mr Preston with, but ended up striking Bashir over the left shoulder with it instead, the court heard.

He told the court that Mason, also of Holme Park Court, Huddersfield, got Mr Preston in a headlock a short time afterwards, and that Mr Preston was somehow dragged out of the car.

Bashir said it was at this point that Boy A, Boy B, Boy C and Boy D began 'kicking and stamping' on Mr Preston from 'head to toe'.

He told jurors that Mason then went into the boot of her car, grabbed a car jack and hit Mr Preston with it 'more than once'.

Defending Bashir, Jo Siddhu, asked: "Did you say anything?"

Bashir replied: "I just shouted 'stop it' at all of them."

After the attack stopped Bashir said he heard Mason telling the boys to 'pick Craig up and put him in the boot,' a request he says was then carried out by Boy A, Boy B, and Boy D.

Bashir said that Mason, who he believed to be 'on something,' then approached him carrying the car jack and began threatening him.

He said: "She had put the car jack in my face and said: 'If you open your mouth or tell anyone you'll be next'.

"I've never seen her face look like that, she looked so evil."

Bashir told the court that Mason then drove off with Boy D, while Boy A, Boy B and Boy C 'scattered' from the lay-by.

Mr Preston's body was found by dog walkers near to the Woodhead Pass on the morning of August 22, 2016.

Mason, Bashir, Boy A, Boy B and Boy C all deny one count of murder.

The trial continues.