TWO teenagers were jailed for life today for killing a man in the grounds of a Hampshire church.

Benjamin Vine, 17, and Alex Farrelly, 16, both from Gosport, were ordered to serve a minimum of 12 years after admitting the ''wicked, brutal and cowardly'' murder of William Wickham on February 25.

Mr Wickham was kicked to death by the pair who had drunk 20 bottles of Stella Artois lager between them.

Farrelly, then aged just 15, had started the attack by hitting the 44-year-old with a bottle, knocking him to the ground, Winchester Crown Court heard.

The pair then kicked him as if they were ''playing football'' with his head with Vine, then aged 16, stamping on his head with such force that the print from his trainers was imprinted in his face.

Mr Wickham, 44, of South Street, Gosport, died from 27 separate injuries suffered in the attack at Holy Trinity Church, Gosport. They included a fractured larynx, nose and left cheekbone.

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The judge, Mr Justice Butterfield said: ''This was a wicked, brutal, cowardly and senseless killing.

''Your victim, sadly an alcoholic, slight in built and very affected by drink, posed no threat to you two lads.

''I reject as incredible that you were in fear of an attack by him.

''You were both drunk, you were both aggressive, you both attacked him because he annoyed you or you intended to rob him or as a drunken sport.

''This was a ferocious attack, you beat him to death.''

The court heard that less than £5 in change and a set of house keys were stolen by the defendants from the victim's body as he lay unconscious after the attack.

Nicholas Haggan QC, prosecuting, said a woman who witnessed the attack initially thought that the two boys were ''playing football with a lampshade''.

He said that only as the witness got closer that she realised it was Mr Wickham's head being kicked back and forth between the pair.

Mr Justice Butterfield lifted reporting restrictions so that the two boys, who pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing, could be named by the Daily Echo because of the ''overwhelming public interest'' in the case.

David Whitehouse, defending Farrelly, told the court that his client suffered from dyslexia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and who has a low IQ, had become involved in violence as he struggled in school.

The court heard that Farrelly and Vine, now 17, had been convicted previously of offences of assault causing actual bodily harm and of battery.

These convictions included the violent bullying of other pupils outside the school gates, the court heard.

Mr Whitehouse added that Farrelly, who was remorseful for the killing, was taunted by other pupils because of his education special needs and started to truant and became violent and objectionable to his classmates and to teachers.

Michael Hubbard, representing Vine, said that his client, a promising footballer, had started to get into trouble as he got involved in cigarettes, alcohol and cannabis.

Saying that his client was also remorseful, he added: ''He is a young man who up to the age of 14 had all things positive going for him.

''He was a keen sportsman - at the age of 14 it was thought he would qualify for football trials for Portsmouth (Football Club), he was that good.

''What led him from football was starting to smoke, he wasn't fit, the smoking, the cannabis, the alcohol led the descent into crime.''

Detective Sergeant Philip Bateman, from Hampshire Police’s major crime unit, welcomed today’s jail terms.

He said: “These sentences are the conclusion to the process that began with the tragic murder of William Wickham and ended with the successful prosecution and conviction of the two youths charged by police with the murder.

“Our investigation was extensive and thorough, and we are very pleased at the end result.

“We hope that these sentences will reassure the local community that justice has been served, and our thoughts at this time are with Mr Wickham’s family, who have suffered so much grief due to his death.”

Chief Inspector Jerry Patterson, district commander of Gosport, added: “My sincere condolences go out to Mr Wickham’s family, and I hope that these sentences will give them some measure of relief at this difficult time.

“I would like to praise the hard work of the investigation team, who worked tirelessly to not only find those responsible for the murder, but to reassure the local community that every effort was being made to ensure this crime did not go unpunished.

“The police in Gosport do not believe that the actions of the two youths convicted of this offence in any way represent the young people of the area.

“We actively engage with the young people of the area through community based projects, and we work hard to reach teenagers and build a positive relationship between them and the police.

“We work actively to tackle any youth crime by cracking down on premises that sell alcohol to minors, with Operation Calling Time being our latest initiative to accomplish this. We also mount extra patrols at weekends and use the full powers of the law to identify troublemakers and prevent them from committing crimes by moving them on.

“Our aim as a whole is to continue to make Gosport a safer place to live and work and to make sure the circumstances that led to Mr Wickham’s death are never repeated.”