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Paranoid schizophrenic, 28, who killed university worker, 23, and stabbed seven others in knife rampage is jailed for life with minimum term of 21 years
- Zephaniah McLeod, 28, admitted killing Jacob Billington and other stabbings
- McLeod stabbed Sheffield Hallam graduate Mr Billington to death in Birmingham
- Also admitted four charges of attempted murder and three wounding with intent
- He was jailed for life with a minimum term of 21 years at high-security hospital
A paranoid schizophrenic who went on a stabbing spree in a city centre months after he was released from prison has been sentenced to life with a minimum term of 21 years, to initially be served at a high-security hospital.
Zephaniah McLeod, 28, killed a university worker and left seven other people injured when he went on a knife rampage across Birmingham on September 6 last year.
Jacob Billington, 23, of Crosby, Merseyside, died after McLeod plunged a blade into his neck as he walked back to his hotel with friends following a night out.
McLeod was today sentenced at Birmingham Crown Court to life with a minimum term of 21 years to be served initially at a high-security hospital.
Mr Billington’s mother described him as ‘an absolutely fantastic young man’ who was ‘fun, cheeky, full of life, full of happiness’.
Michael Callaghan, 23, who was with Mr Billington, was also seriously injured as were six other revellers during the string of violent random stabbings.
The six other people McLeod stabbed were Dimitar Bachvarov, Migle Dolobauskaite, Thomas Glassey, Shane Rowley, Rhys Cummings and Ryan Bowers.
McLeod previously pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, four counts of attempted murder and three charges of wounding.
Zephaniah McLeod had already pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Jacob Billington on the grounds of diminished responsibility, but later admitted four charges of attempted murder and three of wounding with intent in a series of knifings on September 6 last year. Left, handout photo. Right, court artist sketch
University worker Mr Billington, from Crosby, Merseyside, died from a wound to the neck on his way back to a hotel after enjoying a night out while visiting a friend who was studying in the city
Ordering the 28-year-old’s detention, initially at Ashworth Hospital, Mr Justice Pepperall said: ‘Your victims were variously enjoying a night out or returning home from work.
‘They gave you no offence and they were chosen at random.
‘Wherever possible you aimed your knives at your victims’ necks.
‘In the course of your murderous rampage you killed one man, left another man and woman fighting for their lives and wounded five others.’
He added: ‘I have no doubt whatsoever you are a very dangerous man and pose a significant risk to members of the public of serious harm.’
The sentence imposed means McLeod would move to a prison to serve the remainder of his term, if his mental health improved sufficiently – but could be returned to a secure hospital if it worsened again.
The judge said: ‘Such a sentence ensures you first obtain treatment but means should you ever be assessed as fit to leave hospital you will be transferred to a prison and not simply released.’
McLeord carried out the apparently random and motiveless attacks in the space of 90 minutes.
He approached his first victim, Dimitar Bachvarov, in Constitution Hill, and asked for a cigarette before stabbing him in the neck with a knife and running off.
About 20 minutes later in Livery Street, Migle Dolobauskaite was stabbed to the left side of the neck and shoulder by McLeod.
Thomas Glassey was in Barwick Street when he was stabbed twice by McLeod and left in a critical condition. Prosecuting, Peter Grieves-Smith QC, said the knife the defendant used was later found in a drain nearby.
McLeod then went to a pizza shop and tried to get another knife.
When his request for a knife was refused, he got a taxi back to his home and armed himself with another knife before going out again to look for more victims.
He then stabbed Mr Billington and Michael Callaghan who were with a group of friends who had returned to a hotel after a night out.
A post-mortem examination concluded that Mr Billington died as a result of a neck wound.
McLeod had been suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the attack and was ‘well-known’ to mental health services.
The court heard he was released from prison unsupervised in April 2020, was only seen face-to-face by a mental health team on September 3, then ‘refused’ to attend a psychiatric assessment – just three days before the attacks.
Mr Billington with his younger sister Abbie on his graduation from Sheffield Hallam University where he was working as a graduate intern
Today, Mr Billington’s mother Jo Billington said there are still many ‘unanswered questions’ about various state agencies’ prior treatment and monitoring of McLeod, and believes ‘mistakes were made’, before the attacks.
Speaking of her son, she added: ‘He was an absolutely fantastic young man, he was fun, cheeky, full of life, full of happiness.
‘Things were going really well for Jacob at the time of his death. He was working at the university where he’d studied, as a graduate intern.
‘He had a new girlfriend who he was really keen on, he was just in a really good place.
‘He had an amazing set of friends who were really supportive and they were just enjoying their young lives. I couldn’t have hoped for more.’
She has formed a deep friendship with Anne Callaghan, the mother of Jacob’s friend Michael Callaghan, who suffered life-changing injuries at the hands of McLeod.
Before the events in Birmingham, Mrs Callaghan said she ‘could not have designed him any better’.
Michael Callaghan (left), who survived a knife attack by Zephaniah McLeod, playing with Vedetts Band
Michael Callaghan only just survived the knife attack carried out by McLeod after suffering a single stab wound to his neck which left paralysed down his left side
Michael is still continuing his rehabilitation.
Mrs Callaghan commended his absolute determination and said: ‘We don’t really understand how he survived because people just don’t survive those injuries.
‘We’ve had real milestones, him being able to sit up, being able to sit in an ordinary wheelchair, getting up on his feet, using the stairs.
‘We’ve had just some fantastic milestones and I’m sure there’s more to come. He’s so determined.
‘He speaks of his loss and his grief (for Jacob) and has said he would swap places if he could.’
West Midlands Police said CCTV showed that after leaving Barwick Street McLeod had dumped his knife in a drain.
He tried to obtain another knife from a pizza takeaway, but when they refused him, he caught a taxi to his home address and re-armed himself, before heading into the city centre again to continue his assault an hour later.
Supt Munro added: ‘The number of CCTV cameras across the city is significant and took an immense amount of co-ordination, however not all of the incidents were covered by cameras.
‘We were able to match the clothing McLeod wore to witness and victim descriptions, to identify him and he was arrested from his home address just over 24 hours later.
‘McLeod has never given an explanation for his actions that night which leaves no closure for his victims or their families and friends, although I am pleased that the admission of his crimes has spared those involved the ordeal of a trial.’
As late as September 3, three days before the attacks in Birmingham, McLeod was seen by a mental health nurse, and said he had heard ‘distressing’ voices in his head.
A few years earlier he spoke of having ‘dark and sinister thoughts about killing’ and heard voices in his head saying: ‘Kill ’em, stab ’em’.
On Wednesday, the second day of his sentencing hearing, a psychiatrist said McLeod will require lifelong treatment and would be a danger to others if he was sent back to jail.
Dr Jeremy Kenney-Herbert described the defendant as a ‘very dangerous man’ who could pose a further threat to staff and other inmates in prison.
He said McLeod claimed to have no recollection of any events from July to September last year and recommended detention under the Mental Heath Act.
Defence barrister Michael Burrows QC, asked why McLeod was released from prison in the middle of the pandemic in April 2020, with no supervision or support.
Police had issued CCTV images of a man wanted in connection with a series of stabbings
Forensic officers cross a cordon on Hurst Walk near the Arcadia Centre, where part of the attack took place
Dr Kenney-Herbert replied: ‘In April 2020, in an ideal world someone like this would be close to their home so that they were close to mental health services.
‘Basically, housing and supervision. Without that support is it likely he would become mentally ill.
‘He had little medication, little money, very little other support or supervision
‘I understand that he had gone to the very end of his sentence and no conditions were placed on his discharge.
‘Without that support, and not registering with a GP, it is likely to lead to a relapse of his mental illness.
‘Clearly at some point he realised he needed help and registered with a surgery. A GP referred him to local mental health service.
‘He was quite concerned about his mental state. It was too late – he didn’t know what to do to comply or engage, that is my hypothesis.
‘He was suffering from a severe mental illness.
‘It’s my opinion that his horrific behaviour and the offences that have been committed is highly attributable to his mental illness.’
After today’s sentencing, superintendent Jim Munro, who was the senior investigating officer for the case, said: ‘It’s not unusual for us to receive several reports of assaults, some involving weapons, on a busy weekend evening, so the incidents were not linked at first.
‘Our CCTV operators immediately began exploring footage around the scenes that had been reported to us and later that day we identified a potential suspect linked to each attack, so we began tracking his movements.’
The story is updating. More as we get it.
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