Lancashire man who murdered pensioner for his bank card to fuel crack cocaine habit jailed

A Lancashire man who stole a pensioner’s bank card after leaving them to die following a vicious attack has been sentenced to life in jail.

By Sean Gleaves
Tuesday, 15th March 2022, 4:18 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th March 2022, 10:40 am

John Swannack, 59, of St Leger Court, Accrington, was told by Judge Robert Altham he would have to serve a minimum of 30 years before being eligible for parole after appearing at Preston Crown Court on Tuesday (March 15).

Bill Howard, 79, was found with "serious head injuries and a number of stab wounds” in St James Street shortly before 2pm on August 28, 2021.

Emergency services attended but Mr Howard was pronounced dead at the scene.

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There was evidence Mr Howard had been subjected to a sustained attack and had accelerant poured on him before his death, police said.

A post-mortem examination established the cause of death to be fatal head and chest injuries.

Detectives launched a murder inquiry and began piecing together Mr Howard’s movements in the days before his death, including August 24 - the last time he was seen alive.

CCTV enquiries captured Swannack leaving Mr Howard’s property on August 24 - a time detectives believe the victim was deceased - with a black bin bag and a walking stick.

John Swannack

He also used Mr Howard’s bank card later the same day.

Swannack would go on to use Mr Howard’s bank card every day until his arrest on August 29.

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Further enquiries revealed Swannack used the card of a vulnerable housebound man to withdraw £500 on July 19.

Bill Howard.

Swannack stole £2,360 from the man in total.

On August 16, Swannack was captured on CCTV withdrawing £350 from the account of another vulnerable man, who had both speech and mobility issues. He also stole his wallet.

On January 12, Swannack pleaded guilty to murder, two thefts and three frauds.

Det Chief Insp Allen Davies, of the Force Major Investigation Team, said: “Swannack is a callous and manipulative individual who deliberately targeted elderly and vulnerable people so he could rip them off to fuel his expensive crack cocaine habit.

Bill Howard in his younger days.

“Bill Howard couldn’t have been more different. He was a kind, quiet, unassuming man, who lived a simple life without bothering anybody. I cannot and do not want to imagine what he went through in the final hours of his life at the wicked hands of Swannack.

“I welcome the sentence handed down by the Judge, which reflects the seriousness of Swannack’s offending and the danger he posed to the vulnerable people of Hyndburn. My thoughts do however remain with Bill’s family, particularly his brother, Jack."

A 55-year-old man from Accrington and a 56-year-old man, also arrested on suspicion of murder, have since been released with no further action.

“I would like to praise my colleagues for their hard work and dedication in this harrowing case. It was thanks to the high-quality investigation and the overwhelming evidence obtained that Swannack had little option but to fully admit to what he had done,” Det Chief Insp Allen Davies added.

Speaking after his death, Mr Howard's brother Jack said he had been "a lovely man, who would not hurt a fly".

He added: “Bill and I grew up in a family of four brothers. I was the eldest and Bill and I were always the closest through our childhood, this bond continued throughout our lives.

Bill Howard (left) with his brother Jack (right).

“Everyone who knew Bill knew what a kind and gentle man he was. I don’t think he had a bad bone in his body. He was never one for confirmation. Bill would not hurt a fly and I don’t think he had ever had a fight in his life. Bill has done nothing whatsoever to deserve what happened to him, he was just living a peaceful life and spent his days quietly going about his own business.

“Unfortunately, Bill never had it easy in his life, none of it was his fault. His wife died young and left Bill bringing up his son, who was just an infant, on his own. Bill never remarried and worked hard to bring up his son alone. We tried to support him as best we could through these tough times.

“Sadly, Bill suffered another tragedy when his son passed away as a young adult. Bill, at this point, had moved to a nearby town, where he was living a simple life alone in his flat.

“Despite living miles apart, we kept in touch often. We would meet up twice a week in town. Bill would be waiting for me on a bench. We would shake hands or bump fists and call each other “Amigo” then head down the street to the pub. We would sit together on our own and just talk. We would chat about everything and discuss any worries we had. I never felt alone with my problems as I always knew to talk to Bill. We never argued over anything, if I said I didn’t like someone on TV Bill would say he didn’t like it either. Those good times are gone for good now.”

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