Bongnor Regis Breaking Sussex

A man has been convicted of murder after a Bognor Regis father died from burn injuries caused during an assault outside his home

Mark Stoakes, 60, had been at home with his family on the evening of Thursday 8 April, 2021 when they noticed their garden gate was on fire. Mark and his wife ran to the front of their house in Oak Grove to see who was responsible for starting the fire. There, they encountered Aaron Wilks. Wilks was holding a blue bottle and began spraying a liquid towards the victim and his wife. Mark, protecting his wife, stood nearest Wilks and became drenched in liquid – a liquid later confirmed to be petrol. Wilks then produced a flame, which ignited a fire instantly. Mark suffered extensive burns and was taken to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in an induced coma. Sadly, he died from his injuries three weeks later on Friday 30 April. Wilks, 38, unemployed, of Ash Grove, Bognor Regis, was arrested and charged with murder. After a 10-day trial at Portsmouth Crown Court, he was found guilty by a unanimous jury. He has been remanded in custody to be sentenced at a later date. The investigation As police began to investigate the assault on April 8, two other violent incidents involving the victim and the suspect came to light. Around 11.30am on Sunday 31 January, 2021 Wilks attended the victim’s home address and demanded to be let in. When Mark opened the door, Wilks pushed past him and into the kitchen of the property. Wilks was in possession of a meat cleaver and began threatening Mark, demanding to be paid money that he was owed. At one point, Wilks held the meat cleaver to Mark’s throat and also slammed it down onto the top of the cooker causing damage. The exchange was caught on CCTV inside the victim’s home, but was not reported to police until after April 8. The second incident was around 3pm on Tuesday 9 February 2021 when the suspect attended the victim’s home address again with two other men. On this occasion, Wilks threatened to kill Mark and his family before ripping a CCTV camera off the wall around the side of the house. On the evening of April 8, the victim’s family recognised Wilks from those previous interactions and he was nominated as a main suspect for the arson and assault. The arrest Officers began conducting enquiries to find Wilks. They searched addresses and vehicles of people known to be associated with him and seized evidence including a black petrol can from a car, a blue spray bottle from a house and a coat matching that worn by the suspect in the CCTV footage of the assault. 20211206-op-viper-fuel-can-spray-bottle-ls.jpg Wilks was arrested at an address on Ash Grove, Bognor Regis on April 11. In interview, he presented a prepared statement in which he admitted attending the house in Oak Grove but claimed the victim had come at him with a knife and he had then acted in self-defence. Wilks remained silent for the rest of the interview. While Wilks was still in custody, the Crown Prosecution Service authorised charges of blackmail, criminal damage and possession of a bladed article in relation to the incident on January 31; criminal damage in relation to the incident on February 9; and grievous bodily harm and applying an explosive substance with intent to cause serious injury in relation to the incident on April 8. Following Mark’s death, the cause of which was determined to be complications arising from burns to the upper torso, the charge of grievous bodily harm was upgraded to murder. Wilks appeared at Portsmouth Crown Court on May 17 and pleaded guilty to possession of a bladed article and criminal damage. He pleaded not guilty to murder, blackmail and applying an explosive substance with intent, and the case was sent for trial. The conclusion Wilks was found guilty of murder and blackmail on Friday (December 10). He was found not guilty of applying an explosive substance with intent. Senior Investigating Officer Detective Inspector Pauline Lane said: “This was a horrendous and deeply distressing incident that has resulted in the tragic loss of a beloved husband, father and friend. “Aaron Wilks attended the victim’s home address on the evening of April 8 armed with an accelerant and a lighter, intent on causing harm. “The subsequent assault was the culmination of a campaign of threatening and aggressive behaviour by Wilks towards Mark Stoakes over an apparent unpaid loan. “We’re grateful to Mark’s family for their bravery and dignity throughout, and to witnesses and the wider community for supporting our investigation.”