A grieving mum has spoken of her son’s 20-year battle with drugs, as the man convicted of his killing faces being locked up for seven years.
A jury cleared Barry Cookson, 41, of murdering John Leatherbarrow, 37, in a Leyland flat, but convicted him of manslaughter, after a nine-day trial at Preston Crown Court.
John had visited Cookson’s drug den in Westfield Drive to buy heroin to feed the addiction that led him to his killer.
The former St Mary’s High School pupil had fought his addiction since he was a teenager.
But, despite the support of his loving family, he could not escape the drugs scene.
His devastated mum Norma said: “John’s life was a constant battle with addiction. He was making every effort to sort himself out before Jack, his son, 11, grew up.
“Although he had a bad problem, John was a kind, caring man that would always go out of his way to help people. We hope he is in a peaceful place now, and we will keep his memory alive for Jack.”
Mr Leatherbarrow has been described as a devoted father, who would spend weekends with his son, and had spent the days before he died fishing with the youngster.
After leaving school, he had taken on an apprenticeship in mechanics, and had a number of jobs working locally.
Norma, who is married to John, a photographer, said: “Everyone said he was a good worker.”
They continued to support their son throughout his battle with drugs, offering him a place to live, on the proviso he tried to rid himself of his addiction.
In April, he had attended rehabilitation and had made good progress, but Norma said he was gradually slipping back into drugs.
On the morning of December 18, he left the family home in Ulnes Walton with £10, cycling through ice and snow, to buy drugs from Cookson.
However, inside the flat a fight broke out, and John was stabbed in his leg.
Toxicologist reports showed Cookson had levels of opiates in his blood which would have been fatal in someone who was not a regular user.
John had much lower levels of drugs in his system, suggesting he had taken drugs the day before.
Norma said: “This has been an anxious time for us all, and I sympathise with any family that experiences the devastating effects that both drugs and, increasingly, knife crime has in ruining family lives.
“John was a grand lad with a bad problem.
“There are no winners in this.”
The jury took just over an hour to convict Cookson of John’s manslaughter, clearing him of murder.
Norma said: “We would like to thank Lancashire Police and the whole team for their support at this very sad time in our lives.”
Senior Investigating Officer Detective Superintendent Neil Hunter said: “John Leatherbarrow was subjected to a sustained and vicious assault at the hands of Barry Cookson and was found dead at the bottom of the stairs of his flat having bled to death.
“This was a difficult investigation as there were no eye-witnesses, no CCTV and limited forensic evidence.
“Cookson alleged that he acted in self-defence and it was incumbent upon the prosecution to establish the truth and demonstrate that he did not act in self-defence.
“Cookson inflicted the fatal injuries over a minor drugs dispute and he is now going to have to face up to the consequences of his actions.
“He was annoyed that, inadvertently, he had given John too much drugs earlier that week and expected payment for them on that Sunday.
“In an effort to cover his tracks during the trial Cookson he alleged that John was the aggressor and attacked him first.
“I totally reject this suggestion as it has always been the prosecution’s position that Cookson was the aggressor and I am delighted that the jury saw his actions as unlawful.
“Anyone who knows John will know that he is not a violent man, quite the contrary.
“The rather unpleasant aspect of this case is that all the injuries inflicted by Cookson were survivable injuries.
“Cookson inflicted three nasty stab wounds with a sharp kitchen knife and therefore must have realised that John was seriously injured. During the trial Cookson told the court that John was a good friend of his, I am yet to be convinced of this as if he had done the right thing and summoned assistance at the earliest opportunity, as any decent human being would have done, then John may well be alive today.
“Sadly, Cookson waited an inordinate length of time to seek help and as a result John bled to death. You have to ask yourself what friend would allow that to happen?
“This is a desperately sad case involving the murky world of drug dealing and drug taking and is a salutary reminder to everyone that drug addiction can have tragic consequences and can ruin the lives of many people.”
He added: “Finally, I would like to pay tribute to John’s family who have conducted themselves with great dignity throughout the trial.
“I have enormous respect for John’s mother, Norma, who was in the unenviable position of having to give evidence in the trial where her son had been killed.
“I would also like to thank the Crown Prosecution Service and Counsel for the prosecution, Mr Dennis Watson QC who presented this case single-handedly.
“I hope today’s outcome will provide some small comfort to John’s family and I wish them the all well in the future”.