Steven Simpson, an only child, suffered from Asperger's syndrome (a mild form of Autism which is characterised, amongst other things, by a significant delay in social understanding and interactions), a speech impairment and epilepsy; and he was gay. In other, words, he was the perfect target for bullies. Despite Steven's learning difficulties, he was sociable and had lots of friends.
Steven moved home to the flat with his mother Bernadette from another suburb of the former pit town. They left their former home three miles away after Steven, who was studying at Barnsley College, to escape bullies on the estate, who were tormenting him because of his autism. Locals said a gang of youths at his former address had made his life a misery, calling him names and throwing paint over him. But then his mother moved in with her new boyfriend leaving Steven living alone in the flat.
Former neighbour Ryan Clarke, 20, said: "Steven was autistic, but it was not obvious when you first met him. But he was different and people used to pick on him and call him 'gay'. He was just a nice lad who wanted to be friends with everybody and was always smiling, but there are some sick people. The bullies threw paint on him when he lived here and eventually his mum and him decided to move away so it might stop." This was a cruel case of bullying based on Steven's sexuality and disability.
Steven had significant learning difficulties but was getting on well, and had recently started college where he was studying life skills, necessary for one with Asperger's. On his course he made some new friends and decided to have a few of them over tat his house where he lived alone in Pleasant View, Cudworth, near Barnsely to celebrate his 18th birthday. One of his neighbours made a buffet, but initially no-one turned up.
Then, Jordan Sheard had been "egged on" by other guests there. Jordan Sheard only vaguely knew Steven but was allowed into the party with two friends. "Friends" who had, by most accounts, turned up because there was a party, not because they knew or liked Steven.
Having discovered the truth about his sexuality and his disability, the focus of the party quickly turned to Steven and his sexuality. They proceeded to bully Steven remorselessly - all under the camouflage of it being "banter," no doubt. Or "good-natured horseplay". A neighbour who popped in to check on Steven noticed shaving foam in his hair and red pen on his arm, but said the teenager seemed to be enjoying himself. Steven was not just the victim of a moment of madness that came out of nowhere; he was humiliated, bated and abused in the hour preceding his death. All was, in a very real way, pre-meditated.
So, he was bullied even during the party at his flat. But then, it became less of being Steven's friends, and more about how to torture him. He was dared to strip down to his underwear, and then partiers scrawled obscenities - lipstick was smudged all over Steven's face, and they wrote the words "gay boy" on his forehead and "I love dick" on his torso, then forced him to dance - before he was doused over in his bedroom with tanning oil. Steven did not object to being covered in oil, rather the opposite.
His disability and sexuality were used as weapons against him, with the group of "friends" taking advantage of his naivety. He was taunted and mocked and forced to perform like a Victorian circus freak. That he was bright, well-mannered, good-hearted and kind was obviously of absolutely no relevance to the cretins who surrounded him, induced him to become increasingly drunk at his party, then dared him to strip to his boxer shorts, and encouraged to dance around before having obscenities scrawled on his body. Then coated his body in degrading slogans and symbols and then, after 2am, a partygoer took the Calypso tanning oil from Steven's bedroom and, as it was poured over him, others chanted: "Light it, light it."
To Jordan Sheard it probably sounded like a good idea at the time, didn't it? I mean, it was all in good fun, right, and everyone was yelling, probably something like "Do it! Do it!" And so he did "it". Poor Steven did not object; he seemed to be enjoying the situation. And that was when 19 year old Jordan Sheard, who had gate-crashed his house party, decided, in the early hours of Saturday 23rd June 2012, to make it even more fun, and he held a lighter to the lad's groin and turned Steven into a human fireball.
Jordan Sheard lit his crotch with a cigarette lighter and the flames engulfed his body. Instead of putting out the fire, Sheard ran away and also the other guests cowardly fled the party at Steven's flat, as Steven was turned into a human torch in the early hours of Saturday morning.
After Steven ran screaming from his home, neighbour Sean Banner, who had also called in to check on Steven, witnessed the horrific aftermath. He courageous raced to help the teenager who was screaming in agony, and tried desperately to put out the flames. He managed to extinguish the flames the flames, burning himself in the process.But by that stage Steven was already severely burned and witnesses described his skin as "dripping like candle wax". He ripped off the teenager's burning clothing, injuring himself, and placed Steven in a cool bath while waiting for paramedics to arrive.
Neighbour Kerry Blackburn said: "There was a party at Steven's flat for his 18th birthday. There was loud music and drinking going on. Sean Banner is a hero for trying to save Steven's life." Mr Banner has gone to stay at his girlfriend's house while he recovers from his injuries, but a friend looking after his flat said he would need counselling. "Sean went to help the poor lad and tried his best to put the flames out, but it was no use," the friend said. "He is very traumatised."
Emergency services were called to the party at Steven's flat, at 2.20am last Saturday. Steven was taken to hospital and transferred to the special burns unit in Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield. But his injuries were too severe, enduring 60% burns to his body, and he died from his injuries the next day, on Sunday, 24, June.
Sheard later tried to claim the vulnerable teenager set himself alight. He eventually admitted starting the fire but claimed it was horseplay gone wrong. Three men aged between 19 and 39 and three teenagers aged 16 and 17 were arrested on suspicion of attempted murder before Steven's death. A 16-year-old female was released due to in sufficient evidence. The other five have been released on police bail.
Steven had little experience of socializing during his teenage years, because of his Asperger's, his epilepsy and his learning difficulties. By all accounts, he was too trusting, too inexperienced and too naive to fully appreciate that he ought to have said "no" to what he was being asked to do by his guests.
Steven Simpson was vulnerable, but he was not less. He had his whole life ahead of him and he had worked hard to overcome the difficulties given to him by nature. He could not interact with people in the same way the majority of the population can and he could not fully understand the nuances of what was happening around him on the night he died. In that sense, he was an innocent and that detail gives his death an extra poignancy. But if our only reaction to Steven Simpson's death is sorrow, then we are missing the point. There is much to be very, very angry about.
In 2013, it is astonishing that this kind of behaviour should result in under four years in prison. It is jaw-dropping that a judge could refer to something like this as "good-natured horseplay", as Judge Roger Keen dismissed the crime. It is both grievous and enraging that Steven Simpson's parents have to live the rest of their lives knowing that the child they had loved, nurtured and worried over, spent the last hour of his life as a butt for the sadistic jokes of a bunch of braying morons who only stopped laughing at him when it was time to run away as he burned to death.
Most of all, we should be furious and worried that not enough is being done to stop this; the verdict this week in Sheffield failed to send a clear message that behaviour like Jordan Sheard's cannot and must not be tolerated in this country. Crimes like this must carry a penalty so harsh and unambiguous that it will discourage the trolls of our society from behaving like this again. Harsher punishments, at least, might protect more people like Steven Simpson. As Jordan Sheard and the other "friends" ran away, they certainly cared about their own safety and wellbeing, at least.
Sheffield Crown Court's view on the matter has been frankly disgusting. Judge Roger Keen dismissed the crime as a "good-natured horseplay" that had gone too far, and sentenced him to a unusually short sentence of three and a half years in prison. Sheard's defence lawyer called what happened to Steven a "stupid prank that went wrong in a bad way". Sheard pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was jailed for three and half years yesterday at Sheffield Crown Court - but will be released on licence halfway through.
Judge Roger Keen QC accepted the basis of Sheard's plea that the killing was a "result of horseplay", but he added: "Any objective observer, given the fluid that had been poured all over him, would have considered that was a dangerous act."
From various newspapers' articles