Neighbours from hell force man out of home with weapons

Homophobic neighbours who threatened a man with a meat cleaver, claw hammer and boiling kettle were today spared jail.

Joao Alves, 72, and Ivan Bonaparte, 29, subjected their victim, who the ECHO has chosen not to name, to a "terrifying" ordeal.

The Portuguese nationals threatened to kill the man, with Bonaparte warning him: "That will be one less gay in the world."

Liverpool Crown Court heard their sinister threats – motivated by the man's sexual orientation – drove the victim out of his home.

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But the pair walked free after a judge decided their time spent on remand during the coronavirus crisis was punishment enough.

The three men lived in bedsits at a house in King Street, Southport, where in the months leading up to July, the victim felt "unfairly targeted".

David Birrell, prosecuting, said: "He believed that was due to his sexuality. On occasion, he had heard the defendants describe gay people in offensive terms."

On Friday, July 10 at 11.30pm, the man returned home and met Alves – who was holding a meat cleaver – in a communal hallway.

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Alves raised the cleaver above his head as if to strike the victim and said: "You f****t. If you ever slam the doors again, I will kill you."

The victim was "paralysed with fear", then fled to his bedroom, locked the door and sent a text message to his landlord, but didn't receive a reply.

He decided to go to the police, but as he left, Alves shouted from his window: "Yeah, go to the police, son of a b****, then I kill you."

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On Wednesday, July 15, at 4pm, the victim returned from work and went into the communal kitchen, but Bonaparte entered and closed the door behind him.

Bonaparte boiled a kettle of water and said: "How about I kill you now and pour boiling water on you?"

He was holding a claw hammer and started banging it on the kitchen surface, then told his neighbour he hated him.

Mr Birrell said Bonaparte held the weapon to the victim's cheek and said: "Go and tell the police that I threatened you. Tomorrow it will be me calling the police to come and pick up your body, because I will kill you. That will be one less gay in the world."

He referred to his neighbour as a "s****y gay" and the victim ran to his bedroom and again text his landlord, who didn't reply, then went to the police.

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When arrested and interviewed, Alves denied threatening the man with the cleaver and called him a liar, but confessed to calling him gay, and said he threatened him with a knife from his window.

Ivan Bonaparte walked free from Liverpool Crown Court

Bonaparte claimed he was having thoughts of harming himself and others, and while he threatened the victim with the hammer and kettle, only intended to scare him and didn't make any homophobic remarks.

The "really shocked and scared" victim said he suffered "huge" psychological damage, which caused him to leave his home.

Mr Birrell said: "He believes that he was targeted for no reason other than his sexuality, which he finds upsetting. He states that he was terrified and describes the defendants' behaviour as cruel."

Both men were charged with threats to kill, but admitted the lesser offence of affray, which prosecutors accepted.

Ken Heckle, defending Alves, said he was of previous good character and had been in the country for 17 years, having worked for "the equivalent of BT in Portugal".

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He said "very remorseful" Alves worked in the UK for 13 years, then retired, and lived a "relatively modest life".

Mr Heckle said the incident arose out of "frictions" in the house, his client was drinking, and "his temper got the better of him".

He said "very emotional" Alves spent four weeks on remand at Walton prison, which was "a jolt to the system" for a man of 72, with limited English.

Mr Heckle said: "He knows what an English prison is like, and he doesn't want to go back there again."

He added: "In respect of his views, it's clear what the author of the report says, that perhaps Mr Alves does need some educating. She is a little bit concerned about some comments he made.

"That may be cultural, I don't know, it may be his age, it may be something he needs some help with. You're never too old to learn."

Joao Alves walked free from Liverpool Crown Court

Bonaparte's five previous convictions for eight offences include grievous bodily harm against his dad as a youth, and common assault and breach of a restraining order in 2012.

Jason Smith, defending Bonaparte, said his unemployed client intended to move to London to live with his sister when released from jail, after two months on remand.

The lawyer said Bonaparte accepted everything in the victim's statement when interviewed – bar the homophobic remarks.

He said: "The reason he didn't accept them at that time was shame. He knows how disgraceful those comments were and he's ashamed that he made them."

Mr Smith said his client was depressed after losing his job and being on the verge of losing his home due to Covid, adding: "Quite simply he snapped."

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He said Bonaparte wrote a letter to the man from jail – expressing remorse and informing him about threats he overheard another inmate making about the victim in prison.

Mr Smith said Bonaparte did this "to ensure the safety" of the victim, which was "a significant piece of mitigation".

Judge Thomas Teague, QC, handed both men five-year restraining orders.

He said: "That gentleman was terrified by the actions of each of you."

The judge said Alves was a man of "hitherto excellent character", it was an isolated incident and "unlikely to ever be repeated".

Judge Teague told Bonaparte his letter seemed to display some remorse, but the "precise motives in writing it are not clear".

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He said the pair showed "hostility based on the victim's sexual orientation, which forms the sole motive for the offences".

However, the judge said he didn't think either man was a danger to the public and it was "fortunate" for Alves and Bonaparte they had served the equivalent of two-month and four-month sentences respectively, during "unpleasant" lockdown restrictions.

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He said: "That equates to significantly more punishment than the figures alone might suggest."

Judge Teague handed Alves 16 months, and Bonaparte 20 months in jail, both suspended for two years.

He gave both men 100 hours of unpaid work; Alves 15-hour and Bonaparte 20-hour Rehabilitation Activity Requirements; and told them to each pay the victim £500 compensation.

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