Rugby men spared jail after an ill-tempered dispute over money escalated into violent confrontation at a farm

Two people were assaulted and a number of vehicles were damaged – including one which was run through with the forks of a fork-lift truck

An ill-tempered dispute over money owed for some vehicle parts escalated into violence when one man turned up at a farm with back-up to settle the score.

During the incident that followed a father and son were both assaulted and a number of vehicles were damaged – including one which was run through with the forks of a fork-lift truck.

After the attack at the farm in Knightcote, near Southam, four men appeared at Warwick Crown Court charged with violent disorder, but pleaded guilty to an alternative charge of affray.

Phyllip Cotton

Phyllip Cotton (34) of Frobisher Road, Rugby, who was behind the attack, was sentenced to 22 months in prison suspended for two years and was ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work.

Steven Merrick (38) of Chesford Crescent, Warwick; Sam Vernon (27) of Lakin Drive, Bishops Itchington; and Christopher Cunningham (33) of Marlborough Road, Rugby, were all sentenced to 19 months suspended for two years, with 150 hours of unpaid work.

In addition, each of them was ordered to pay £250 compensation to one of their victims, Andrew Parker, £100 to his father Dennis Parker and £100 costs.

Prosecutor Nigel Stelling said that Cotton and Andrew Parker had been engaged in some business, and there was an issue between them which led to ill-tempered messages being exchanged.

Sam Vernon

In July 2019 Dennis Parker received a message from Cotton asking for contact details for Andrew, who he said owed him £1,600, and making a threat towards Andrew if he did not contact him.

He then sent a message to Andrew telling him: “I’m sending some people to collect my money. You took the p***.”

Cotton then headed to the Parkers’ farm in Knightcote with the other three defendants in support.

Andrew sent a message that the vehicle parts which were the subject of the dispute between them were at the end of the drive, and that Cotton should not come down the drive ‘or it will cost you dearly.’

Steven Merrick

“Cotton did drive up, followed by the other defendants, and they got out and were immediately intimidating, one of them running towards Andrew Parker who jumped onto a forklift and began driving back and forwards.

“One man jumped on it and was repeatedly punching him, and Cotton went into a workshop and picked up an axe handle and attacked several vehicles.

“At that stage other defendants, although not Cunningham, were throwing rocks at Andrew Parker and other vehicles belonging to the Parkers,” said Mr Stelling.

Dennis shouted for them to stop and called the police, and one of the defendants assaulted him with a length of wood as Cotton and Merrick got onto the forklift and assaulted Andrew, with Cotton hitting him with the axe handle.

Christopher Cunningham

Andrew drove the forklift at Cunningham’s Audi car, which was reversed away, and then saw that his own BMW had been badly damaged, with all the windows having been smashed,

“Seeing that, he drove the forklift at the VW van in which Cotton had arrived, driving the forks through the rear door of the van – and at that point the attack came to an end.”

Mr Stelling added that all four defendants had previous convictions for offences including violence, although not recent.

Addressing the judge, Matthew Radstone, for Cotton, conceded: “The single question is whether or not you are going to send him immediately to prison.”

He said that two years had elapsed since the incident, and there had been no further offending by Cotton, who was ‘a genuinely hard-working man’ who has two employees and recently paid the deposit on a premises to open a tanning salon.

Simon Hunka, for Vernon, said he had previously been in the Army, after which he ‘fell in with the wrong crowd,’ but had played a lesser role in the affray and had now turned the corner.

Barristers for Cunningham, who it was said was there out of ‘misguided loyalty’ and did not use any actual violence, and Merrick also urged the judge to pass suspended sentences.

Judge Andrew Lockhart QC told the four: “In my judgement this offence is so serious that only a sentence of custody is justified. The real question is whether I can suspend it.

"This is a serious offence of its type, and it is by a hair’s breadth that I am persuaded I can suspend the sentences. All four of you are very lucky.”