THERE was not much honour among two 28-year-old thieves who had a drunken row over whether or not to rob a post office. It climaxed when one grabbed a hammer and smashed it several times over the head of the other, injuring him so badly that when he reached hospital part of his skull was missing and some of his brain was sticking out.

Not surprisingly the man died and six months later his former friend stood before a jury accused of murder. It was the end of the line for the unholy alliance between Reginald Johns and David Vaughan, which had begun several years before when they crossed paths while serving sentences in Gloucester Prison.

After release from jail they met up several times, the final fatal encounter taking place in Evesham in the summer of 1979. It was then Johns invited Vaughan and another man named Wayne Evans to stay at his home in the nearby village of Harvington while his wife was in hospital to have a baby.

On the night of August 11-12, Johns and Vaughan left the house three times, on each occasion returning with cash and drink and talk of “doing jobs”. In fact, as well as the murder charge, Johns also appeared at Shrewsbury Crown Court accused of two burglaries on the same night, at Church Lench village Hall and Bidford-on-Avon Bowling Club, both of which he admitted.

The pair’s haul of booze from the venues included beer and spirits and back at Johns’ home 12 pints of beer and half a bottle of rum were consumed before dawn broke. It was then the situation went rapidly downhill. Evans, who was not involved in the burglaries, had gone upstairs to sleep, but as daylight broke through the curtains, he was awoken by Johns who whispered in his ear: “I have got to bump Dave off.”

Startled, Evans asked why and Johns replied: "He would not take the bottles and dump them.” Evans told the court he suggested they put the bottles in a car themselves, but Johns refused and said he was going to “tap Dave on the head” with a hammer and “drop him over the back”. At this point, Evans urged Johns not to be stupid, but even so decided to leave the house, passing Vaughan, then asleep on a settee downstairs, as he went.

Johns later claimed to detectives that when Vaughan woke up he suggested they do a third job and rob a post office. The pair were “half steamed” on beer and rum and a violent row broke out when Johns refused to take part in the raid, believing, so he said, it would involve the use of firearms.

Johns told the court: “He said to me if you don’t help me at the post office, I will clear out and have the law down on you. We called each other names and swore at each other. He told me he would leave me holding the baby and I thought he was threatening my wife and child. I think I lost my temper. I hit him with a hammer. I just picked it up and swung with it. I don’t know if I hit him, but he fell back. I meant to hit him on the shoulder, but I think I hit him on the head. I hit him a few more times and he was then back on the settee.”

When Mr Justice Mars-Jones asked: "What did you intend to do when you hit him?” Johns replied: “I did not stop to think what I was doing.”

Johns said he panicked, carried Vaughan to a car and drove him to Evesham Hospital. Bizarrely, on the way they passed Evans walking along the road and Johns pulled up and offered him a lift. Vaughan was lying in the front seat dripping blood, but Johns just said to Evans: “He’s all right, he’s still alive. I’m going to take him to hospital.” At that point Evans declined the lift and ran off.

Prosecuting counsel Peter Weitzman QC said: “It was clear to casualty staff at the hospital that Vaughan had a very serious head wound. One piece of his skull was completely missing and brain tissue was showing.”

Vaughan was transferred to Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, but died a fortnight later without regaining consciousness.

Johns initially tried to blame Evans for the attack but later confessed: “It was me and not Wayne.”

After a week long trial, the jury took only three hours to return a unanimous guilty verdict and as the judge sentenced Johns to life imprisonment he slumped forward in the dock and buried his face in his hands.