A 'COWARD' has been jailed for 23 years for fatally stabbing a ‘kind and loving’ young man, who became a dad for the first time hours after he was murdered.

On the evening of Friday, June 15, Stuart Rawling and Declan Bunting had been ‘smiling and laughing together’ in a pub on Wilderspool Causeway.

Only hours later and a matter of metres away, Rawling fatally stabbed the dad-to-be in the street.

Declan Bunting was murdered in the early hours of Saturday, June 16, with his former girlfriend giving birth later the same day.

READ MORE >> Murderer captured on CCTV trying to call victim before fatal stabbing

READ MORE >> Detective Waller: Declan Bunting murder 'vicious and senseless'

READ MORE >> Grieving family's heartache as dad will never meet his newborn daughter

Prosecuting barrister John Benson told Liverpool Crown Court on Tuesday: "It was a child he never got to see."

Warrington Guardian:

Declan Bunting

Rawling, of Wilderspool Causeway, appeared before the court having admitted murder during a hearing last week.

The 32-year-old was jailed for life with a minimum term of 23 years by judge Clement Goldstone.

Declan Bunting and Stuart Rawling were ‘well-known to each other’ and lived in the same building, in separate flats at 217 Wilderspool Causeway.

In the hours before Mr Bunting’s death, the two had spent time together in the Causeway pub on Wilderspool Causeway.

Warrington Guardian:

CCTV footage of Stuart Rawling in the Causeway pub on the night of the murder

At around 9pm Mr Bunting left to meet up with his girlfriend Rosie Kelly, with the pair then visiting friend Andrew Goulding’s flat at 123 Wilderspool Causeway.

Rawling had remained in the pub for several hours but also then attended this flat – where a number of people were gathered – at around 1.30am.

The defendant made a ‘vulgar and inappropriate remark’ to one person in the party, with Mr Bunting telling him: “You can’t come here and do that.”

He was then escorted out of the house.

Described as being ‘annoyed’, Rawling made a number of phone calls to Mr Bunting – telling him: “I’m going to go back to jail for what I’m going to do to you tonight.”

Rawling returned to his flat and armed himself with a knife and an axe before returning to Mr Goulding’s property.

Mr Bunting picked up a fire extinguisher from the hallway and set it off, at which point Rawling threw the axe at him.

The two then began fighting in the street, with Mr Bunting having armed himself with a wooden stick.

During this altercation, he was stabbed six times by Rawling.

Mr Bunting then ran back into the flat, bleeding ‘copiously’ – he asked whether the blood was his, before collapsing in the living room.

He was rushed to Warrington Hospital, but pronounced dead on arrival at 3.36am.

Declan’s mum Karon Carter was abroad on her first foreign holiday when she received the devastating news, which left her ‘numb’.

Rawling fled the scene by jumping over a wall near to St John’s United Reformed Church, but was traced by police officers who followed a trail of blood - with the defendant having sustained a ‘significant’ injury to his right hand during the incident.

In a tribute, Mr Bunting’s family described him as being a ‘kind and loving’ young man – adding that Rawling was a ‘coward’.

Warrington Guardian:

The defence counsel claimed that there had been an element of self-defence in Rawling’s actions.

His barrister John McDermott said: “The greater fault is by far on the defendant - nothing I say is designed to suggest otherwise.

“The tragedy is that they did meet in the street and there was fighting between the two of them.

“A knife was used, but whilst he was under attack - even though he had caused that attack himself.

“He has maintained throughout that he did not intend to kill the deceased.

“This was an offence committed in anger and drink.

“His reaction when hearing of the death of Declan Bunting is still with him - he regrets what he did very much.

“He has genuine remorse that Declan Bunting’s life was lost in this way.”

But Mr Benson rejected the ‘fanciful’ notion of self-defence.

He told the court: “The defendant, angered by the deceased’s failure to answer his calls and having been ejected from the flat, armed himself to confront Declan Bunting.

“A violent confrontation was envisaged, and indeed this happened.

Warrington Guardian:

“The notion that the defendant was acting in self-defence is entirely fanciful.

“This was a man who had completely lost control - he had confronted Declan Bunting with lethal weapons, and he used those weapons to kill him.”

Rawling has seven previous convictions for 10 offences – including actual bodily harm, burglary, aggravated vehicle taking, battery, disorderly behaviour theft and possession of cocaine.

He had been due to stand trial to face the murder charge this week.

A two-week trial was expected to begin on Monday, after the defendant failed to enter a plea during an earlier hearing at Chester Crown Court.

Rawling had refused to leave his cell at HMP Forest Bank when he was due to appear in court via video link on Monday, October 8.

He showed no emotion at any time during proceedings on Tuesday, having changed his plea to guilty late last week.

If Rawling is released from prison in the future, he will spend the rest of his life on licence.

Sentencing, judge Goldstone said: “You have admitted murdering Declan Bunting - a much-loved son whose girlfriend gave birth on the same day he was killed.

“Their loss is unimaginable, and will never be diminished.

“In one phone call, you told Declan Bunting that you were going back to jail for what you were going to do to him.

“How right you were.

“You had a lock knife that you were prepared to use on no fewer than six occasions spread over a short interval, with lethal effect.

“This was a pre-meditated attack in a public place at night, in the presence of others – the location and timing of this offence is an aggravating feature, and it speaks for itself.”

“Your record reveals previous convictions for violence, albeit less serious in nature.

“You intended to kill Declan Bunting when you were inflamed by rage and deprived of any self-restraint.”

Judge Goldstone also ordered the forfeiture and destruction of the the axe and knife, as well as a number of other knives found in Rawling’s flat.

Warrington Guardian:

Declan Bunting