Loner Liam Jones was yesterday jailed for life after being found guilty of murdering a Southampton man in a frenzied knife attack. Sarah Cole reports...

A FORMER heroin addict was today starting a life sentence for the frenzied stabbing of Southampton man Ian O'Brien.

Loner Liam Jones, who had an obsession with martial arts and weapons, plunged a knife into the 40-year-old's head and throat during an argument outside flats in Portswood.

One of the seven major wounds was inflicted with such force that it cut part of Mr O'Brien's spine and severed an artery.

Deep cuts were also found on his hands where he had desperately tried to defend himself.

Jones then rifled through his victim's jean pockets as he lay dying on the ground, helping himself to bank notes and coins.

Within minutes, the 23-year-old killer fled to his mother's house in Oxford - driven by his father, who was still wearing his pyjamas.

Jurors took 11-and-a-half hours to find Jones guilty of murder at the end of a ten-day trial at Winchester Crown Court.

Imposing a mandatory life sentence, Judge Michael Brodrick said:

"You have been convicted by the jury of the offence of murder.

"Precisely what prompted this attack on Mr O'Brien we don't know, probably only you know.

"It was a savage attack with severe stab wounds.

"I will say no more because as you know the sentence of murder is fixed by law and that is life imprisonment."

Jones bowed his head to the floor as the verdict was returned but clapped his hands and shouted "sweet" when his father was found not guilty of assisting an offender.

Thomas Jones, 56, had driven his son to Oxford shortly after the attack, but denied the charge. After the case, Det Sgt Howard Kiley, who led the murder investigation, codenamed Operation Shaftesbury, said: "Ian O'Brien's family have now been provided with the facts in relation to his death and I hope they now feel better able to deal with the loss of their relative.

"This was a brutal attack on Ian O'Brien and I would like to thank the many members of the public who came forward and assisted in this investigation, thereby ensuring his killer faced prosecution."

The trial had heard disturbing evidence about Liam Jones and his interest in violence.

Police who raided his mother's Oxfordshire address found chilling hand-drawn diagrams showing vulnerable "target" areas of the body - which included the throat.

Jones told the court he had drawn the pictures several years ago when he had been training himself.

A kung fu book was also seized from his bedroom.

Jones, who had no previous convictions, insisted he had never been given a chance to put the skills into action.

Liam James Thomas Jones had grown up on the notorious Blackbird Leys estate in Oxford.

Winchester Crown Court was told how buying hard drugs in the neighbourhood was "as easy as buying milk from a supermarket".

Jones, an only child, had started smoking cannabis at the age of 12.

He quickly progressed to amphetamines, LSD and cocaine, and by the age of 16 was regularly injecting heroin.

It was drugs that provided him with an explanation for being in Mr O'Brien's company on the night of his murder.

Jones told police he had joined his father's neighbour in the Gordon Arms in the hope of scoring some drugs.

Unemployed Jones lived a largely solitary existence with few friends, spending most days sleeping, watching television or smoking dope.

Often his sole outing was to walk to the local chemist to pick up his daily dose of heroin substitute methadone.

Jones had left Oxford High School at the age of 16 without a single qualification to his name.

He did the occasional bit of labouring work and, despite his drug addiction, briefly held down a job as a nursing auxiliary at a private hospital in Oxford.

Chubby-cheeked Jones, who will be 24 on Christmas Eve, loved gold and boasted a prized collection of chunky rings, earrings and other jewellery.

He frowned throughout most of the trial and on some occasions put his head down on the front of the dock, noticeably when jurors were shown video footage of his arrest in Oxford.

Jones lied repeatedly both to police during six hours' of interviews and again in the witness box in court.

His original story changed as forensic evidence linked him with the murder, eventually to the point where he admitted fighting with Mr O'Brien after the men left the Richmond Inn that night.

Jones agreed he had thrown punches, which explained why his sovereign ring had left a distinctive mark on Mr O'Brien's top lip, but insisted no knife had been used.

He also concocted a ludicrous story about how Mr O'Brien had sneezed before trying to put his hands in his jean pockets as the men sat in a pub together - which accounted for how incriminating DNA had been found on bank notes in his possession when arrested.

A self-styled "hard man", Jones had attended karate classes as a youngster and maintained an interest in all forms of martial arts.

When arrested after returning to Portswood Park a few days after the murder, he was found to have an "ornamental" butterfly knife and small metal bar in his bag.

Jones' parents had separated when he was just two years old. He remained living with his mum in Oxford but saw his father at weekends.

His mother, Lynda Berry, who watched the murder trial from the public gallery, was in poor health at the time of Mr O'Brien's murder in February.

Ironically, Jones had been sent to live with his father to clean up his act away from Oxford's drug scene before returning to look after her.

His father Thomas - who did not give evidence in court - was painted as a doting dad, in many ways under the influence of his son.

When arrested, he leapt to his son's defence, telling police: "Obviously he has said to you he didn't do it, and I believe him. I don't even have to ask him.

"Why would he kill a piece of rubbish like that when somebody else would do it for him? It was just a matter of time. I don't get excited about characters like that; I don't even raise a sweat."

Battling a long-term alcohol addiction, Jones senior looked far older than his 56 years.

He led a simple existence in his one-room bedsit, doing the odd bit of casual labouring and pottering around in an untaxed Peugeot estate.

Jones had insisted their late-night trip to Oxford to his ex-wife's home had been a pre-planned visit.

The prosecution had claimed the 67-mile journey provided the pair with the perfect opportunity to dispose of the murder weapon and Liam's bloodstained clothing.

Neither was ever found despite extensive police searches in both the Southampton and Oxford areas.

Jones had known his victim only in passing as his father's neighbour.

Shaven-headed Mancunian Ian O'Brien had moved to Southampton several years earlier.

Described in court as "no angel", he had a broken nose and a notorious reputation.

Pleasant enough when sober, he became obnoxious, aggressive and foul-mouthed with drink inside him and had been barred from several pubs in the Portswood and Bevois Valley areas.

Mr O'Brien spent most days drinking. He loved his beer. Apart from the odd short-term contract at Southampton docks, he was usually out of work, and spent the majority of his giro on booze.

Usually wearing his trademark brown leather jacket and beige baseball cap, he was a familiar figure around the local pubs.

Those who knew him spoke of his dabblings in drugs, stolen goods and various dodgy deals.

At the time of his death, he had told acquaintances he was being threatened by two people including a prostitute.

Some said he was a loveable rogue whose bark was worse than his bite while others loathed him, but all agreed on one thing - he did not deserve to suffer such a brutal death.

Mr O'Brien's bloodied and battered body was found by church leader Paul O'Neill just before 11pm on Wednesday, February 6.

He had been curled up on a piece on grass, with a piece of white plastic chain-link fencing wrapped around one ankle as if he had tripped while trying to escape from his attacker.

No-one but Jones will ever know the full details of the vicious stabbing or how long it lasted. Police believe it happened between 9.30pm and 10pm, when father and son were seen leaving the flats.

Mr O'Brien's two sisters, Carmel O'Brien and Julie Norris, 43, had travelled from their homes in Manchester to attend the case but had to return on the day the verdict was announced.

Ms O'Brien, 39, said after the conviction: "The police in the case couldn't have done enough for us, they were fantastic and there from the start for us.

"We were running up and down when we heard the verdict from the police, it was unbelievable.

"It had been very emotional and stressful sitting through the case.

"At last we have got justice for Ian."