Boss of multi-million business led vigilantes who killed a man he wrongly suspected of burgling his daughter's home

A WEALTHY businessman was the "driving force" behind a group of vigilantes brutally who killed a man they wrongly suspected of burgling his daughter's home.

Neil Elliott, 44, who owned a multimillion-pound recycling firm, was convicted of manslaughter for his "leading role" in the death of drug addict Michael Phillips, who was savagely beaten at his Hartlepool home last June.

When his daughter's house was broken into, Elliott, a well-known businessman in Hartlepool, had posted on Facebook earlier that day: "Whoever burgled my daughter's house and took her car, your life is about to change, trust me."

His "staunch" associate Lee Darby, 32, was convicted of murder following a six-week trial at Teesside Crown Court.

Drug addict Anthony Small, 40, who helped Elliott's group get into Mr Phillips' home, was found guilty of manslaughter.

Four other defendants were cleared of murder and manslaughter.

Mr Phillips suffered 50 injuries, including 15 broken ribs, skull and facial fractures, and a punctured lung and spleen, when a group of men attacked him.

He was attacked with knuckle dusters and a cosh in his living room.

Nick Johnson QC, prosecuting, said: "Our case was, and is, that Mr Elliott was the driving force behind a series of events on June 10.

"Beginning with his Facebook threat which included… intent to cause serious harm to those who burgled his daughter.

"He then brought that threat to bear throughout the day, playing the leading role."

He said Elliott and Darby had planned serious violence that day.

The jury, in clearing him of murder, may have decided that Elliott planned to cause what was short of "really serious violence", Mr Justice Jacobs said.

But the jury decided with their verdicts that Darby went even further, the judge said.

Mr Johnson said Darby took the law into his own hands that day, despite a police investigation already looking into the burglary and theft of Elliott's daughter's car.

In a victim statement, Mr Phillips' brother, Phillip Sharpe, said the family's loss had hit them hard, particularly having to hear graphic evidence of the men "beating the air out" of him.

Mr Sharpe said: "To hear that's what Michael had to go through in his final minutes will haunt us."

The men will be sentenced today.

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