A SMALL-time drug dealer has been jailed for 12 years for stabbing a Carlisle man to death, after a “murder” trial was dramatically halted when he admitted manslaughter and a co-accused was acquitted.
Blair Dixon and Alfonso Bitton, both aged 25, had each denied the alleged murder of John Cingelis, who suffered a single “unsurvivable” knife wound to the chest at his home in the city’s Harraby area on the morning of April 12 this year.
Dixon and Mr Bitton went on trial at Carlisle Crown Court earlier this week. A prosecutor told jurors Dixon “fatally stabbed” 37-year-old Mr Cingelis in his own home having armed himself with a large blade, “incensed by the misapprehension” that the householder and a friend had his £135 Canada Goose beanie hat. This was found elsewhere days later.
The friend, Barry Cartwright, was stabbed in the arm and wounded during violence which flared hours after Dixon and Mr Bitton had socialised at Mr Cingelis’s home, before leaving on “friendly terms”.
Mr Bitton stood accused of being involved in the killing “by his presence” and was alleged to have “lent encouragement and support to Dixon”. But Mr Bitton flatly denied being at Brantwood Avenue that morning, telling police he was instead asleep in his nearby flat when the killing occurred.
At identification procedures several days later, Mr Cartwright identified Dixon as the man responsible for stabbing he and Mr Cingelis, and said Mr Bitton was at the house at the time. But, while giving evidence, Mr Cartwright admitted it was “possible” he identified Mr Bitton because he had seen him the night before.
As a result, no evidence was offered by the prosecution to the charges of murder, intentional wounding and illegal knife possession denied by Mr Bitton, who was acquitted and told he was “free to go”.
Jurors also listened today (THURS) as Dixon admitted the manslaughter of Mr Cingelis and unlawfully wounding Mr Cartwright. Dixon had also previously admitted having the knife which was found by police in a storm drain. After prosecutor Michael Brady QC announced those pleas were deemed “acceptable” after careful consideration – and consultation with Mr Cingelis’s family – Judge Simon Medland QC discharged the jury.
Jailing Dixon, of Welsh Road, Carlisle, Judge Medland noted grieving relatives had described Mr Cingelis as “truly someone who would do anything for anyone”.
Judge Medland told Dixon: “You were raging about a hat which you said was worth £135. This was one of a number of items of costly clothing which you had. It is clear to me you were only able to afford these things because you were, as you admit, a small-time drug dealer.
“You accept you carried a knife at all material times.” Judge Medland added: “This case is a terrifying and appalling example of the utter devastation which drugs bring to people’s lives and to the communities in which we all have to live.”
Detective Chief Inspector Jenny Beattie, head of North Cumbria’s crime and safeguarding team, was the senior investigating officer in the case.
Speaking after the sentencing, she said: “This is a tragic case that appeared to start with a low-level dispute over a piece of clothing.
“But what it shows is that any use of knives in a dispute can end in serious injury or, as has been demonstrated here, the loss of someone’s life.
“We do not have some of the problems with knife crime in Cumbria that can be seen in other places – but we are never complacent and this shows exactly what can happen.
“Dixon’s actions have left a family grieving and Mr Cingelis’ life was cut tragically short.
“I would like to thank the family of Mr Cingelis for their courage and dignity throughout this investigation.
“I would also like to thank those members of the public who came forward to help the investigation.”
Victoria Agullo for the CPS said: “Blair Dixon committed an act of mindless violence resulting in the tragic loss of life of one man and injuries to another.
“In police interview he denied knowing the victims and he gave them a false alibi. Faced with the overwhelming evidence against him including CCTV proving he was not at home when he said he was, and his DNA on the knife which was found discarded in a nearby drain, he pleaded guilty to taking John Cingelis’ life and stabbing his friend.
“My thoughts are very much with the family and friends of John Cingelis at this time, especially his friend who witnessed the awful events that day and also received injuries. I hope that today’s sentence will assist them as they move forward into the future.”
In a statement issued afterwards, the family of Mr Cingelis said: “John’s death has had a significant and profound effect on us all.
“We struggle to comprehend the circumstances surrounding the death and how trivial the whole incident was to lead to the death of John.
“We know that John had his struggles in life and we acknowledge that.
“However, he really was genuinely, out of all of us, the one person who had the biggest heart.
“He was truly someone who would do anything for anyone and we, as a family, will miss him forever.”