Jonathon McPhillips inquest: JJ’s mum confronts man acquitted of her son’s murder, who tells her ‘I do not wish to answer’
- Credit: Archant
The mother of fatally stabbed Canonbury dad Jonathon “JJ” McPhillips confronted the man acquitted of his murder at a tense inquest in the Old Bailey today.
Michelle McPhillips asked Michael Dyra if he felt any "empathy" towards her dead son or sorrow for the impact his loss has had on their family, to which the witness - who was cleared of killing JJ when a murder trial collapsed last year - repeatedly declined to comment.
In her determination, senior coroner Mary Hassell found the 28-year-old father-of-two had been "unlawfully killed". It is more than two years since JJ was knifed through the chest near Islington Town hall on February 25, 2017.
Verbal and written witness testimony told how a fight broke out after a group of "masked" males brandishing knives, one of which looked like a "butcher's chopper", entered Upper Street via Richmond Avenue and mounted a "frenzied attack" on another group of men.
It's believed JJ was fatally stabbed while attempting to act as a peacemaker in the brawl, during which another witness called to the stand, David Nolan, was also stabbed twice.
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Det Sgt Gurg Singh told the court: "The big thing about this is the attackers came in unison; they came prepared; they came orchestrated, and by stealth and surprise they attacked JJ and his friends."
Scrutinising CCTV footage in court, he showed how an assailant ran up behind a fleeing JJ and landed a "glancing blow", which the force believes to be the fatal stabbing.
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Kevin Fevriel, 38, who was working the door at Be At One bar in Upper Street that night, said: "I saw a guy half-running, half-jogging towards us, and then the male came up to my colleague and said: 'I've been done; I've been done.' My colleague said: 'What do you mean?'
"The male then opened up his jacket and I saw a blood stain on his chest area."
Kevin ran into the bar to get the first aid kit, and when got back JJ was "on the floor". He told the court JJ was "hyperventilating" and couldn't talk. He put gauze on the wound and maintained pressure until the paramedics arrived, whereupon they cut
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open his shirt and bundled him into an ambulance. But, despite being operated on, JJ died of brain injuries caused by a stab wound to his heart. He had been on life support at the Royal London Hospital for two days.
Michelle thanked Kevin for his efforts, which gave her "time to speak" with JJ before he died.
Before the inquest, she told the Gazette: "When I was stood next to the ambulance while paramedics worked on JJ I had this big exhale of breath and said to my mum: 'He has just died.' When I spoke to the paramedics months later they told me he flatlined by the ambulance - they called it 'a mother's intuition'. Even though they took him to the hospital and he had four cardiac arrests, J was brain dead."
Addressing a handcuffed Dyra, who was called as a witness, Ms Hassell asked him where he was in the early hours of February 25, whether he'd seen JJ that evening, if he'd had anything to do with the stabbing, or if he knew him. To each question he replied: "I do not wish to answer."
Dyra is currently serving time for a brawl in St John Street last year, having admitted causing violent disorder and carrying an offensive weapon in March. A man was stabbed during the fight, which also saw three other people jailed.
Ms Hassell said: "There is some information to suggest you may have been in rival gangs. Are you or were you in a gang?" Dyra declined to comment.
Ms Hassell asked Dyra if he knew "anything at all" about JJ's stabbing, and again he said: "I do not wish to answer."
Michelle then addressed Dyra and said: "First of all, thank you for coming here today - I appreciate you turning up and I understand the pressure you're under. All I would ask is one question: do you have any empathy whatsoever with my son's death and how I have had to cope with losing my child?"
Mr Dyra said again: "I do not wish to answer." He was then led out of court.
The 24-year-old was first charged with murdering JJ in February 2018, after two CCTV experts, working for the Met Police and private forensics firm Diligence, respectively, originally deemed there was a "strong" chance "subject A" could be identified as him. But the court heard how, at the 11th hour, before the murder trial was due to commence last August, this was downgraded to a "moderate" chance Dyra could be identified, causing the Crown to enter no evidence and Dyra to be acquitted.
Det Sgt Singh told the court the Met Police had appealed this change "very strongly twice", and that the force didn't understand why the downgrade had occurreed.
Dyra was within his legal rights to refuse to answer any questions he believed could incriminate him.
Mr Nolan was also called as a witness, where he admitted being in a parked car in Upper Street, "smoking a joint", with friends before they were approached by "10 to 15" masked men. He was twice stabbed as he tried to flee. It was his birthday.
He claimed he couldn't remember who he'd been in the car with, as it had been "traumatic" and he "blacked out". He told Ms Hassell he was also a "victim".
Mr Nolan said he "knew of JJ" as he was a community figure but they weren't close. He admitted seeing JJ and his cousin out drinking in Upper Street shortly before they were attacked but claimed he didn't hear he'd been stabbed until they were in hospital.
Michelle told Mr Nolan: "Our families have known each other for an eternity. You grew up in the Marquis Estate together. JJ was known to you; he was friends with your father."
She said she "sympathised" with his injuries but wishes he'd agreed to have a cup of tea and tell her his side of what happened, rather than it needing to be a statement in court. She asked: "Why have you never helped me or my family?" He replied: "Because I don't know nothing."
Michelle questioned why the attackers would approach his car rather than any others, and why Mr Nolan's friends bolted as soon as they arrived rather than helping him get out. He said: "Everyone was for themselves." He claimed to have no knowledge as to why he and JJ were attacked, suggesting they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Asked if he's recovered from the stabbing, he said: "My leg now and then gives up on me."
Michelle's views on the inquest
Ahead of the inquest, Michelle told the Gazette: "I feel deflated. I don't thing anything's going to come out of this, other than being told how my son died.
"Two witnesses have turned up but that doesn't mean much they're going to speak. They can just say no comment - but I get to ask questions.
"It has been a long time waiting around to get court dates due to affiliation with gangs.
"None of this is gong to bring back my son back. What it might do is answer a couple of questions on my head. Did he feel the pain? Was the adrenaline rushing so he didn't feel the pain? That's what I would like to know medically, that my son didn't suffer."
She added: "Why was my son attacked? Out of everybody in Upper Street that night why my son? And what was the purpose of the whole attack?
"Who did something to bring in the severity of that attack - six machetes turning up is a big thing. I believe something happened a few hours before and they [the attackers] got told where they were.
"I believe in my heart of hearts JJ is innocent. All I want out of life is justice for my son and someone to pay for my son's murder."
Michelle's views on the police investigation and criminal justice system
The bereaved mother, and publican of the Green Man, in Essex Road, said the fact no one has been brought to justice for JJ's killing sends out the message you can evade justice in the UK.
"I want the justice system to make them pay," she said. "But I feel they are failing due to cutbacks on police and forensic teams, they haven't got the resources to deal with these cases.
"And if the public doesn't help by giving evidence then they can't blame the system. But the system needs to protect witnesses."
She said JJ was the 17th person to be killed by knife crime in 2017, and that some 1,200 people have since been stabbed to death.
She added: "If they have to deal with the up-and-coming cases how can they deal with historical cases with these cutbacks?"
But Scotland Yard has promised it will never close JJ's case, Michelle said. The mother says she won't stop until his killers are jailed.