Police reopen Banbury murder case 20 years after Liverpool man dies in town pub

Kevin Lavelle who died in a fight at the Cricketers pub in Middleton Road, Banbury 20 years agoKevin Lavelle who died in a fight at the Cricketers pub in Middleton Road, Banbury 20 years ago
Kevin Lavelle who died in a fight at the Cricketers pub in Middleton Road, Banbury 20 years ago
Police are reopening the case of a young Liverpool man who was brutally murdered in a Banbury pub 20 years ago this week.

Kevin Lavelle died after being hit with a dumbell bar in the Cricketers Pub, Grimsbury, during a fight over a Euro Championships football match. He left a fiancee Michelle and two children. Michelle subsequently took his surname and exchanged rings with him in a blessing ceremony soon after his death.

A judge aquitted a man of Mr Lavelle's murder, saying it was impossible to determine who struck the fatal blow.

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A cold-case review was held ten years after Mr Lavelle’s death, unsuccessfully. Another ten years on, retired detectives who worked on the case are hoping those who may have been involved, or told others who was wielding the dumbell bar, may feel the need for the truth to come out, to give closure to the dead man’s family.

The building that was the Cricketers pub in Middleton Road, Banbury. The property has now been refurbished into flats.The building that was the Cricketers pub in Middleton Road, Banbury. The property has now been refurbished into flats.
The building that was the Cricketers pub in Middleton Road, Banbury. The property has now been refurbished into flats.

Mr Lavelle’s sister, Lesley, said: “Kevin's death has had a devastating impact on our entire family. He was a devoted father to his children, my only brother, and the only son of our parents.

“Our family has suffered for 20 long, heart-breaking years, unable to grieve Kevin's loss fully because we still don't know who is responsible for his horrific murder.

“Three years ago, we sadly lost our mum after she suffered a heart attack on the anniversary of Kevin’s death. We believe she died of a broken heart after 20 years of carrying this heartache and losing her one and only beloved son.

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“In recent years, my father’s health has deteriorated as a result of the grief of Kevin’s death, and all we ask for is for someone to find it within themselves to come forward and speak out about his murder. Someone knows exactly what happened that night.

“My dad and I are appealing to anyone that has any information that can help bring Kevin’s killer or killers to justice.

“Please, we urge you to come forward and do the right thing, and allow us, as a family, to begin the grieving process instead of living with this overwhelming anger and heartache. Let us get justice for Kevin Lavelle.”

Steven Duffy, a retired detective chief inspector who worked on the case, said: “Kevin Lavelle was one of two crane drivers, working away from home and staying at the Cricketers. A number of railway workers from the Pontypridd area of south Wales were also staying there.

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“England had just been knocked out of the European Championships. There was some banter between the Welshmen and the Englishmen and as a result there was a fight, resulting in Lavelle getting struck three times on the head.”

Lavelle was sick and asphixiated on his vomit.

"The only witnesses we had were the Welsh railway workers and the other crane driver. It wasn’t what they told us but what they left out. We tracked down the murder weapon but the judge ordered the jury to find (the man charged) not guilty because he couldn’t rely on the evidence,” said Mr Duffy.

"I asked for an inquest, which is quite unusual in a murder trial, to try to get to the truth - because somewhere, there were people withholding evidence. There were people who saw what happened, including the landlord and landlady.”

Mr Duffy believes the case is solvable 20 years later.

“I'm quite sure those involved would have discussed who actually did what. But people didn't want to be involved. These guys weren’t villains – they were people who had to work away from home and this football overtook them. In normal circumstances it would have been a fight we never knew about. Probably the young Liverpudlians would have been thrown out and that would have been an end to it.

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"But unfortunately, Kevin died. We got a man charged, but we didn't get a conviction. The family took out civil proceedings but it collapsed.”

The case almost got on BBC’s Crimewatch programme but was always shelved to make way a more urgent case. This cold-case review is different because it does not rely on scientific advances, such as DNA.

Mr Duffy said he hoped questions would be asked and memories jogged - that people would feel for Mr Lavelle’s family.

“A family has been denied a father. Michelle had to bring up two children on her own. It's the people who are left who have to bear the long-lasting effects. And of course, there was no closure because nobody was ever convicted. Kevin's mother has already died. She died thinking there would never be justice.

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"But the people there on the night will have spoken to others and told them exactly what happened. They were terrified of going to prison. But attitudes change and there comes a point where people may feel the need to offload this information. It’s a bit of absolution.

Peter Beirne, in charge of the new cold-case review, said: “We are limited to what we can do forensically. It's not in dispute that the Welsh men were there, that they were having a fight and they would all been in contact with Kevin, Ordinarily we'd be looking for foreign DNA but we can't, because everyone had a reason for their DNA to be present.

"All we can do is visit those we know were present – who weren't main suspects – to see whether their recollection or their allegiance has changed.”

“We would like to speak to anyone who was at The Cricketers or has any information - anyone staying at the pub on June 24, 2004.

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“You can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.”

A £20,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for Kevin’s death. The reward offer expires on September 25, 2024.