A Warrington man who stabbed a friend six times, including once through the heart, has been sentenced to life in prison for murder.
Stuart Rawling, of Wilderspool Causeway in Warrington, was told he will serve a minimum of 23 years behind bars, during a hearing earlier today (Tuesday) at Liverpool Crown Court.
The 32-year-old, who stabbed his friend six times – including once in the heart, had recently pleaded guilty to the offence.
The incident took place in the early hours of 16 June 2018 at a row of houses on Wilderspool Causeway, one of which had been converted into flats.
Rawling and his friend – 21-year-old Declan Bunting – both lived in separate flats at an address further along the same road.
The court heard that Rawling had spent the majority of the afternoon and evening before (15 June) drinking in the nearby Causeway pub where he was a regular customer.
Eventually, Declan joined him in the pub early in the evening where they were seen on CCTV laughing and smiling.
At around 9pm Declan left the pub alone to go and meet his girlfriend.
As the night progressed, Rawling became engrossed in his phone as he stood at the bar. He tried to contact Declan by mobile phone, making 14 calls and was heard getting increasingly frustrated when his calls were ignored.
At around 1am Rawling left the pub and made his way to a flat occupied by a friend of Declan’s knowing Declan would be there. Once inside, there was an argument between the pair – believed to have been sparked by an inappropriate remark made to another occupant of the flat.
Declan told Rawling to leave and he was escorted outside but continued to repeatedly call Declan on his mobile phone another 12 times over a period of nearly two hours. During one call Rawling told Declan that ‘I’m going to go back to jail for what I do to you tonight’ and this was relayed to a witness in the flat by Declan.
Clearly angry and frustrated, Rawling went back to his own flat where he armed himself with a knife and an axe. At around 2.50am Rawling called Declan to say he was outside the flat.
Upon opening the door, Rawling threw the axe towards Declan which, although hit him, didn’t cause any injury. Rawling then attempted to force his way into the flat leading to Declan arming himself and setting off a fire extinguisher in the direction of Rawling.
The two men argued and Rawling was heard to tell Declan to arm himself with a weapon and as a result Declan picked up a wooden stick. A brief but violent fight took place and this ended with Declan being repeatedly stabbed by Rawling with a knife.
Declan managed to run back into the flat – despite being seriously injured and covered in blood. An ambulance was called and a witness managed to flag down a nearby police officer who then desperately tried to help.
Police officers and paramedics treated Declan at the scene before he was taken to Warrington hospital. Despite the best efforts of all those involved the injuries he had sustained were so severe that there was little chance of survival and, sadly, he was pronounced dead shortly after at 3.36am.
At 3.22am Rawling was located by a police officer coming from the alleyway at the rear of his home address and he was swiftly arrested.
A search of the area near to the flat where Declan was stabbed resulted in the recovery of the knife used to stab Declan.
A post mortem examination revealed that Declan had suffered six stab wounds to his back, chest and arm and concluded that he died as a result of one stab wound piercing his heart.
A murder investigation was launched by the force’s Major Investigation Team and Rawling was subsequently charged with murder on the 20 June 2018.
Detective Inspector Adam Waller, who was in charge of the investigation, said: “Today justice has been served for Declan and his family. This has been a devastating and heart-breaking time for them as they continue to come to terms with their loss and our thoughts remain very much with all those who knew and loved him.”
By admitting his guilt Rawling has spared Declan’s family and friends the ordeal of sitting through a trial and potentially having to give evidence in court albeit they have had to wait nearly six months for this outcome.
“A young life was taken at the hands of Rawling in an attack I can only describe as vicious and senseless. Arming himself with a weapon he clearly intended to do serious harm that night.
“Carrying a knife can be devastating for all of those involved. A young life, as in this case, can be tragically lost and a family left without their loved one.
“Over the past six months detectives from the force’s Major Investigation Team have worked tirelessly to piece together this case and I would like to thank all the officers and staff who have been involved.
“While no prison sentence will ever bring Declan back, I hope that Declan’s family take some comfort from the fact that a dangerous individual has been taken off the streets for a long time.”
Tribute from Declan’s family: “As a family we feel relieved that today Stuart Rawling has been sentenced for murdering Declan. Rawling finally admitted his guilt, accepting responsibility for what he has done to our son Declan. He has however made our family endure the anguish of preparing for a trial for the last six months. Rawling to us is a coward and we are so pleased that he can now no longer think he is able to scare or intimidate anyone.
“When we were told Dec had died our lives just shattered in to tiny pieces right there and then. We didn’t know what to think or do. We couldn’t accept what we had been told, that our boy was gone, stabbed to death. Since then our lives have been a constant struggle. We are distraught and feel broken, that a piece of us is missing. We all miss him so so much, every minute of every day.
“Declan was kind, loving and his family meant everything to him and him to us. Declan was so strong, so happy and so funny with the world in front of him. Now all that’s been snatched away and it makes us feel so sad, his daughter will never get to know how great her Daddy was. He’s going to miss out on her first words, first steps, her first day of school and so much more. We will always love him so very much and he is and always will be in our thoughts.
“We love you Declan and we are so proud of you and how brave and independent you had become. We have all lost so much and we still can’t believe you have gone.
“We as a family now have to live with a life sentence. Yes one man has been sent to jail for this crime but for us this is not justice for what he has done. No jail sentence will ever bring Declan back or be ample punishment for taking a young man’s life away. One day that man will be released and able to carry on with his life and see his family again. We on the other hand will never see our son, brother, grandson, nephew or friend ever again.
“We will never be able to fix our family after having Declan taken from us but together we’ll be there for each other and somehow get through this nightmare.
“Declan was a massive part of our family that will be missed forever. I don’t think we’ll ever get over this tragedy and the hole it has left.
“We as a family wish to send our heartfelt thanks to the members of the public, police and medical staff who tried their best to save Declan the night he was fatally injured. We would also like to thank Cheshire Police, in particular the senior investigating officer and his team for all their hard work.”