James Morton
James Morton

A man was jailed for 12 years today for strangling a 16-year-old girl to death.

James Morton, 24, of Pierson Street, Newark, had denied murdering Hannah Pearson.

He was cleared of that charge but found guilty of manslaughter after a two-week trial at Nottingham Crown Court.

Morton strangled Hannah, of Marston, Lincolnshire, at his home just hours after they met.

He claimed her death took place accidentally as part of a sex-game gone wrong.

Morton will serve at least half of the 12-year sentence.

Judge Mrs Justice Sue Carr told him: "You guided her up to your bed, where you joined her.

"Whilst in bed, you initiated auto-erotic sexual activity by placing first one hand, and then two hands to her neck.

"You enjoyed the domination, something you had seen on a porn DVD previously, and had also tried with at least one previous girlfriend. 

"I am sure, as the jury was, that Hannah did not give valid and informed consent to this escalated activity in the knowledge that it carried the risk of some bodily injury. 

"She had never been involved in such activity before, was very intoxicated and, if not totally unconscious, then certainly confused and not thinking straight. She was in no position to object, trapped underneath you whilst you strangled her. 

"Only you know exactly what went on in your bedroom that night. The jury was not sure that you intended to kill Hannah or cause her really serious harm. 

"But on any view you chose to engage in sexual activity which you knew to be dangerous with a very young drunk girl whom you had only met that afternoon and who, as you realised at the time, had never engaged in this type of activity before. 

"Hannah was, to your knowledge, very drunk.

"She was also very young and vulnerable, and alone in a strange house. Indeed, you accepted in your evidence that you felt responsible for her.

"Jed, her boyfriend, trusted you to take care of her. She trusted you to take care of her. 

"The pain suffered by her family is indescribable. They live a nightmare every day.

Hannah was taken away from them in a shocking, terrifying event that should not have happened."

In a victim impact statement she read to the court herself, Hannah's mother, Dawn Pearson, said: "Hannah was the most beautiful daughter you could ask for.

"The loss and pain we are all experiencing is indescribable.

"To have the police knock at your front door and tell you your daughter has been killed is a parent's worst nightmare. This is the nightmare we are living with every single day. 

"The hurt and pain we feel is indescribable, the physical pain we feel in our hearts is suffocating.

"We so desperately want to see her walk through our front door again, see her beautiful smile, but we can't.

"She has been taken away from us in such a cruel and vicious act. As a family, we have a constant ache in our hearts."

The court heard Morton was obsessed with choking women during sex.

Morton admitted putting Hannah, who had drunk so much she was struggling to stand, in bed and climbing in alongside her.

He claimed she kissed him and he responded. He helped her undress before sitting across her and putting a hand around her neck, telling her she should tell him to stop if she did not like it.

He then put his other hand around Hannah's throat and applied more pressure.

The court heard Hannah, who had battled and beaten anorexia a year earlier, may have been unconscious through drink.

After Hannah stopped breathing Morton dialled 999 and the schoolgirl was rushed to hospital. She was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. 

Hannah had met her boyfriend, Jed Hope, in a pub in Lincoln on July 23 last year to celebrate his 19th birthday.

Morton, a friend of Mr Hope, was already at the pub when Hannah arrived. It was the first time they had met.

Morton, whose parents were away, invited the couple back to his house.

Mr Hope could not afford the train fare so Hannah went alone.

Giving evidence in his defence, Morton insisted he had no intention of having sex with Hannah, who was more than twice over the legal drink-drive limit, but claimed she put her hand on his cheek and kissed him on the mouth.

Morton said he had tried strangling a previous partner, and was curious after seeing it on a film.

He said Hannah's death was an accident, claiming under cross-examination that he was disgusted with himself.

However, in opening the case, prosecutor Mr Michael Evans QC, told the court: "He was someone who increasingly enjoyed the sensation of strangling women. He admitted enjoying the feeling of domination. 

"We say that on this night, his increasing obsession with strangulation reached a different level."

In a statement issued after Morton’s sentencing, Hannah’s family said: "We would like to thank the barrister Mr Evans, Nottinghamshire Police, the paramedics and the police who tried endlessly to save Hannah.

"We’d also like to thank family and friends and the wider community, all of whom have showed us care, compassion at this very sad time.

"When our daughter Hannah went out on that Saturday night, the last thing you would expect is a knock on the door from the police telling us that Hannah had been killed.

"At that moment our lives as a family changed forever. Gone was the laughter, the music in the house, the fun and joy she brought to our lives.

"We are left with darkness, sadness and a loss from which we will never recover.
"Hannah's loss is felt by many.

"The memories she created for others in her short life will live with those forever. She will be missed eternally but her legacy will live on."

After the sentencing Detective Inspector Justine Wilson, of Nottinghamshire Police, said: "Hannah had put her trust into this man, he took advantage of that trust.

"He showed no remorse whatsoever. I can only describe him as a cold and calculated individual.

"Mercifully this type of crime is extremely rare, but that is no comfort to Hannah's friends and family. They deserve huge credit for the bravery, patience and dignity they have shown throughout.

"I'd also like to thank the jury for their diligence throughout the trial."