The teenage traveller who murdered teaching assistant Lindsay Birbeck has been jailed for life and will serve at least 16 years behind bars.
Rocky Marciano Price, 17, named after boxing legend Rocky Marciano, strangled the 47-year-old mother-of-two before hiding her in a wheelie bin and burying her naked body in Accrington cemetery, the same place where his grandfather, who shares his name, and other family members are buried.
Lindsay’s body was eventually discovered by a dog walker, wrapped in two plastic bags, on August 24 last year – 12 days after she went missing from home.
She was identified through dental records and a post-mortem examination concluded the cause of death was neck injuries.
Her naked body was heavily decomposed and no evidence of a sexual assault could be found.
Severe compressive force appeared to have been used, according to a Home Office pathologist, which could have been done in several ways including through stamping or kicking, or kneeling on the front of the neck.
An attempt had also been made to cut off a leg, possibly with a saw, with the judge noting the defendant hadn’t realise how difficult it was to cut off someone’s leg.
Price, who has an IQ of just 65, previously could not be named for legal reasons as he is under the age of 18, granting him automatic anonymity.
But after he was found guilty by a jury at Preston Crown Court on Wednesday, reporters yesterday challenged the restriction due to the severity of the crime and Justice Yip lifted the order.
Sentencing Price to life, she said today: ‘The attack was swift and brutal. I am sure the defendant lay in wait with the intention of killing a passing woman.
‘Why he decided to kill her only he knows. If it had not been Lindsay Birbeck, it could have been someone else.
‘This was the entirely random killing of a stranger.’
Rocky Marciano Price (pictured) previously could not be named for legal reasons as he is under the age of 18, but reporters in court challenged the anonymity order due to the severity of the crime
Lindsay Birbeck, 47, from Accrington, Lancashire, was found buried in a shallow grave at the back of Accrington Cemetery in August last year
He had confessed to burying Lindsay but denied any involvement in her killing, claiming a mystery man had offered him ‘a lot of money’ to ‘get rid’ of a body.
The court found no evidence of this mystery man.
The jury heard he had no previous convictions or cautions and had lived all his life with his parents and five siblings at their home near the cemetery, where the family have lived for 30 years.
It was revealed he was an exceptionally quiet teenager with learning difficulties but he was said to have grown up in a ‘supportive family’ and his specialist needs were provided for.
He attended a local specialist school after he was diagnosed with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Price was described by teachers as ‘very quiet’ and ‘pretty much non-verbal’, with Timothy Bradley, who taught him for 18 months at The Alternative School, adding he was ‘strong for his age’.
Mr Bradley told the trial: ‘He used to enjoy doing art work. We used to do gardening as well with the local community group or help sand down and varnish a bench.
‘He is a very strong walker. We did the bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award with him which involves walking 13km and camping for a night and then going for a walk the following morning which he would complete no problem. He was definitely a strong lad for his age.’
His usual response to conversation would be to shrug his shoulders but the school did not have any issues with him and he had never shown any signs of anger or violence, the court was told.
A psychologist assessed Price in 2015 and said he had a ‘limited understanding’ of his own emotional wellbeing and appeared to have little insight into the link between events and emotions.
Price regularly attended a gym and preferred to be outdoors at school. He enjoyed taking care of chickens on his family’s farm, watching films, including Western’s, and playing on his Xbox.
He achieved the Duke of Edinburgh’s Bronze Award and it was hoped he could go on to college and take a course in gardening.
Mrs Birbeck with her son Steven, 20. Mrs Birbeck was reported missing by her family just after midnight on August 13 and police started an investigation into her disappearance
Headteacher Kirsty Swierkowski described how Price’s mother Martina was ‘desperately worried about her son’s ability to cope with the world as he grew up’.
She revealed that Mrs Price was looking at the possibility of him studying landscape gardening at Myerscough College when he left The Alternative School.
She told the trial: ‘There was no drama, no kicking off. He just wouldn’t do it. There was no whinging or whining. He’s always been a positive pupil in school. I’ve never had any issues with him.’
The trial also heard from teachers who said Price was well dressed and well presented at school and wasn’t ‘motivated’ by money, unlike some of his school peers.
Mrs Swierkowski said she was first alerted to the CCTV footage of Price with the wheelie bin by another staff member on August 27.
She described Price him as ‘being open to exploitation’ due to his ‘vulnerabilities’ and told police: ‘Rocky has never caused us any issues which is why this has come as a shock.
‘When I was first made aware of this my initial reaction was that he could be asked to do something and he would do it without question.
Prior to her murder, Mrs Birbeck had left her home in for a late afternoon walk to a nearby wooded area known as the Coppice. Pictured: The last CCTV sighting of Ms Birbeck before she was murdered
‘He is somebody who will either do something or not do something but he might not necessarily question what he is being asked to do.’
Speaking today, Justice Yip said: ‘The murder was a truly shocking event. This was a dreadful crime which generated strong public interest.
Who is Rocky Marciano?
Price was named after boxer Rocky Marciano, an American fighter who held the world heavyweight title from 1952 to 1956
The 17-year-old murderer was named after boxing champion Rocky Marciano who is considered one of the greatest fighters of all time.
Mr Marciano was born and grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, and had an underwhelming amateur record of 8-4.
But a is the case for many fighters he excelled in the professional ranks after winning his first fight in 1948.
His most famous victory was against Joe Walcott in 1952 where he became world champion. He was known for his fearsome power and ability to knock opponents out.
Marciano went on to accrue an impressive record of 49 wins, with 43 of them coming by knock out.
He is considered by boxing historians to be one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time, and debate rages to this day on if he would have beaten the great Muhammed Ali.
‘The public naturally wish to know who this person was as they come to terms with something that rocked the local community.
‘The defendant’s photograph was already placed in the public domain [as part of a CCTV appeal]. I consider it inconceivable anybody who would wish him ill-harm would not discovery his identity.
‘The wider public are likely to want to know his identity and background with a view to making sense of how such a young person could do something so dreadful.
‘There is a strong public interest in full and unrestricted reporting of what is plainly an exceptional case. The real public interest exists now at the time of conviction and sentence.
‘Continuing reporting restrictions would substantially and considerably restrict the freedom of the press.’
The teenager – named after unbeaten heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano – is from Accrington and lives not far away from the cemetery where Lindsay Birbeck was found.
His parents Martina and Creddy Price were in court for every day that their son had to attend along with other relatives, as reported by the Lancashire Telegraph.
The defence had opposed the application to name Price due to his vulnerabilities. The court heard that Price has already been subject to two ‘attacks’ while on remand at HMP Wetherby.
Barrister Mark Stuart said: ‘Rocky Price’s difficulties are particularly with verbal or the lack of verbal communication and the difficulties he will have within a prison setting.
‘He is about to face now a significant custodial sentence. Not only is it a life sentence but a significant amount of time before his position could be considered by a parole board.
‘He is in a young offenders institute and is a category A prisoner. While some inmates may have some inkling what the position is, the concern is if he is named there is a significant prospect others would find out his name and that could cause him some difficulties.
Mrs Birbeck’s body was found at Accrington Cemetery, which was combed by forensic officers and police for clues
A post-mortem found the mum-of-two, who had left her home for a walk when she went missing, had died as a result of compression of the neck. Pictured: Police search where Mrs Lindsay’s body was found at Accrington Cemetery
Teaching assistant Lindsay Birbeck, 47, was found dead at Accrington Cemetery on the outskirts of the Lancashire town in August last year
First trial was halted after fake confession video
The jury in the first trial of RockyMarciano Price was discharged when police found evidence of someone elseclaiming they were involved in the murder of Lindsay Birbeck.
During the trial at Preston Crown Court inMarch, it emerged that an unconnected investigation into an allegation of falseimprisonment had revealed mobile phone footage of a young man discussing partsof the murder case and saying he was involved with the killing and the disposalof the body.
A new probe involving more than 20 officerswas instigated but it concluded the information on the video clip was false.
Price’s defence team successfully applied todischarge the jury as they submitted their client could not have a fair trialand they needed time to explore the uncovered material.
Trial judge Mrs Justice Yip ruled: ‘Ihave no doubt that the defence must have the opportunity to properly considerthis new information. Had the matter been discovered before this trial it wouldhave been fully investigated, if after, it would have been pursued to the Courtof Appeal on grounds of possible fresh evidence.
‘It’s unusual and unfortunate that theevidence has emerged during the trial.’
The matter was resolved ahead of the secondtrial and reporting restrictions were lifted following Price’s conviction formurder.
Inquiries continue into the unrelated caseafter a 22-year-old man, a 22-year-old woman and a 23-year-old man, all fromAccrington, were arrested on suspicion of false imprisonment and assault beforebeing released under investigation.
‘There is certainly a potential that those in custody may feel a degree of revulsion about what he has done and may even verbally or physically abuse him.
‘It maybe difficult for him to respond and report it to the appropriate authorities.
‘The effect of revealing his name will also have an effect on various members of his family.’
Jury members had previously heard how the teenager, who was 16 at the time, had killed Mrs Birbeck in a woodland before moving her body to Accrington Cemetery in a wheelie bin.
He attended a police station several days after Mrs Birbeck was found, when police released a CCTV clip of a young male pulling a blue wheelie bin behind him on Burnley Road.
He went on to admit dragging the bin from the Coppice on August 17 – with Mrs Birbeck inside – across Burnley Road to the cemetery where he buried her.
Prior to her murder, Mrs Birbeck had left her home in for a late afternoon walk to a nearby wooded area known as the Coppice.
She had invited her teenage daughter, Sarah, and Sarah’s boyfriend over for tea at 6pm.
But when she did not return from her walk, her worried family raised the alarm.
The court heard her attacker had been on the prowl in the woods for lone females and is thought to have killed Mrs Birbeck shortly after she entered the Coppice.
Shortly before Mrs Birbeck entered the Coppice, another woman said she feared for her safety when a lone male wearing a grey tracksuit and his hood up followed her on her walk.
On Wednesday, a jury at Preston Crown Court convicted the youngster guilty of murder after deliberating for more than four hours.
The verdict was returned exactly a year after the murder of Mrs Birbeck, who had split up from her husband and moved to a new home in March last year after she started a new relationship.
The teenager had previously pleaded guilty to assisting in the disposal of her body but claimed he played no role in her death.
Jury members had previously heard how the teenager had killed Mrs Birbeck in a woodland (pictured) before moving her body to the cemetery in a wheelie bin
A 16-year-old boy strangled mother-of-two Lindsay Birbeck and dragged her body through the streets in a wheelie bin before burying her in a cemetery, a court has heard
Mrs Birbeck’s grieving husband, Tim Birbeck, said that his wife’s death has ‘broken’ him
He said he was offered ‘a lot of money’ by a mystery man to ‘get rid of the body’.
Price claimed: ‘I have not met this man before. I have not met him since, nor have I had any contact with him. He has not paid me any money.
‘He told me that he would leave the money for me near where the body had been at first once everything was clear.’
The Crown Prosecution Service did not accept his version of events and said the defendant’s account was ‘implausible fiction’.
Mrs Birbeck’s grieving husband, Tim Birbeck, previously said that his wife’s death has ‘broken’ him.
And of the couple’s two children, Steven Birbeck, 19, said the person who killed his mother had robbed her of the chance to become a grandmother.
Responding to posts on Facebook, Mr Birbeck, who is chairman of nearby Hapton Parish Council, told a friend he was ‘broken mate, it certainly hurt’.
He also praised police for the ‘speedy arrest and the way you have been with my family’, but added: ‘It is horrendous watching our children go through this.’
Hundreds of people had gathered at The Coppice in Accrington to search for Mrs Birbeck
One of the couple’s two children, Steven Birbeck, 19, said the person who killed his mother had robbed her of the chance to become a grandmother
Steven said: ‘I’ve always cherished the thought of seeing my mum smile.
‘The fact that she will never see me and my sister grow up and not going to be there on our wedding days and never see her grandchildren deeply saddens us. All taken by some selfish person who deserves what comes around.’
The discovery of the body brought to an end an extensive search. Thousands of people in the community were involved in handing out flyers and looking for her.
More than 19,000 people had joined a Facebook group to assist emergency services with the search for the worker.
Sentencing is expected to take place on Friday.