18 November 2021

Paranoid schizophrenic who killed 23-year-old university worker in stabbing spree sentenced to minimum of 21 years

18 November 2021

A knifeman who stabbed a university worker to death and wounded seven others in a violent stabbing spree has been sentenced to life with a minimum term of 21 years, to initially be served at a high-security hospital.

Zephaniah McLeod, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 2012, previously admitted the manslaughter of Jacob Billington, after stabbing the 23-year-old to death in the early hours of September 6, 2020.

McLeod had also admitted four counts of attempted murder, including one attack which left a victim partially paralysed, and three separate offences of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

Jacob Billington, pictured with his younger sister Abbie on his graduation from Sheffield Hallam University, died in a knife attack (Family/PA) (PA Media)

Ordering the 28-year-old’s detention, initially at Ashworth Hospital, at Birmingham Crown Court on Wednesday, 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,” he added.

“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.”

Jacob Billington (West Midlands Police/PA) (PA Media)

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.

McLeod, of Nately Grove, Selly Oak, Birmingham, carried out the apparently random and motiveless attacks in the space of 90 minutes.

He got a cab home to pick up another knife, before returning to the city centre, part-way through his spree.

McLeod had been suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the attack and was “well-known” to mental health services.

Michael Callaghan was treated in hospital after surviving the attack (Family/PA) (PA Media)

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 he killed.

Mr Billington’s mother, Joanne Billington, has said there are still many “unanswered questions” about various state agencies’ prior treatment and monitoring of McLeod, and believes “mistakes were made”, before launching his attacks.

In sentencing, Mr Justice Pepperall said: “I find you were released from prison in April 2020 at the height of the first wave of the Covid pandemic without any appropriate follow up by mental health services.

“Indeed given your past medical history, it is a matter of considerable concern you were simply lost in the system for some weeks.”

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