Former Harrogate businessman killed on his 70th birthday

Police tape
Police tape

A murder probe has been launched after a former Harrogate businessman was killed on his 70th birthday after being attacked by a gang in Manchester.

James Ray was making a delivery at a secluded industrial park on Thursday, November 12, when thieves stole his grey transit van before trying to escape.

James Ray

James Ray

The 70-year-old tried to stop the gang escaping in his van but he fell to the ground and suffered fatal head injuries.

Mr Ray, who lived in Easingwold his wife Vivien, died on Friday, a day after the assault.

The couple had previously run pubs in Harrogate, including The Old Tradition on Cold Bath Road, and ran The Spotted Ox pub in Tockwith between the 1980s and 90s.

Mr Ray was due to celebrate his 70th birthday on Friday in York with his wife, son Adrian, daughter Catherine and four grandchildren.

A statement from Mr Ray's family read: "We are completely and utterly devastated by the death of James who was killed on the very day of his birthday.

"He has left behind his wife, a son, a daughter and four grandchildren who are stunned by this abhorrent act of violence."

A 23-year-old man and a 44-year-old man from Heywood have been arrested on suspicion on murder and both men were released on bail on Sunday, pending further enquiries.

Mr Ray was working part-time for his son-in-law's firm, based in Tockwith when he arrived on the Plantation Industrial Estate in Ashton-under-Lyne at 11.23am.

As he was unloading washing powder sacks at the property, a silver Ford Fiesta arrived with the registration SD02 HYL with both vehicles next seen driving away erratically from the scene.

A short time later the van was found abandoned on Clarence Street in Stalybridge and the Fiesta in the early hours of Friday morning in the Heywood area.

Police arrived on the estate shortly after 12.05pm before emergency services discovered the delivery driver with serious head injuries.

He was taken to Hope Hospital in Salford where he died in the early hours of Friday morning.

While the police are still investigation the circumstances following this, they believe it is possible the attack may have been a robbery gone wrong.

Detective Superintendent Jon Chadwick said: We believe there is at least one other person outstanding and I would appeal to anyone who may have witnessed the van and Fiesta being driven erratically to contact police.

I would also appeal to anyone who knows who owns the Fiesta or who has been using it in recent days and weeks to call us.

"James's family are understandably devastated and we have got specially trained officers providing them with the support they need during this tragic time.

"Today would have been James's 70th birthday and his family were planning on holding a party for him. Now, instead of celebrating a happy occasion, they are mourning the loss of a much loved person and planning his funeral."