Jurors sobbed after hearing truth about child killer who ‘nearly decapitated’ Peterborough woman in frenzied attack

Stephen Leonard
Stephen Leonard

Jurors who found a convicted child killer guilty of a ‘frenzied’ attack on a woman suffering from dementia sobbed when they heard violent attacker’s terrifying past.

Stephen Leonard - previously known as Stephen Chafer - sexually abused and murdered three year old Lorraine Holt in Derby in 1979 when he was 17. Leonard, now 57, of St Michael’s Gate, Peterborough, stabbed the innocent young girl 39 times in the attack after abusing her in the vicarage. He served 23 years in prison before his release in 2002.

Last month he was found guilty of the attempted murder of 60-year-old Fay Mills at her home in Viney Close, Peterborough - after he stabbed her numerous times, nearly decapitating her. When police arrived, they believed she had died. Miraculously, she survived the attack.

Jurors at Cambridge Crown Court found him guilty of the attempted murder of Mrs Mills - but during the trial, they were unaware of Leonard’s previous history for murder - and were only told after returning their guilty verdicts, leaving some of them to sob.

The jury were not told of Leonard’s previous conviction for murder, after the judge trying the case ruled it may influence their deliberations.

The court were told Leonard had known Mrs Mills for several years, and had gone round to see her on June 23.

Opening the case involving Mrs Mills, Charles Falk, prosecuting, told the jury: “This Defendant is charged with attempting to stab to death a frail and vulnerable woman in a frenzied knife attack where he inflicted multiple stab wounds all over her body and almost decapitated her and then tried to stab her neighbour who intervened, after hearing her screams.

“He accepts stabbing her and causing life changing injuries from which she will never fully recover. It is almost inexplicable that she even survived. His Defence is that he didn’t mean to cause her serious harm he just wanted to shut her up.”

The jury were told Leonard had launched the attack after Mrs Mills said he could not borrow garden tools.

Mr Falk had said: “There was a lean to at the back of the house, where he would go to smoke because there was no smoking in the house, due to Faye’s grandchild. He asked for a key to Faye’s shed so he could get the shears but she said that she hadn’t got it. Outside there were garden

tools hung on the wall by nails and one of them was a hand rake which he decided to borrow as the next best thing to shears. He described it as “quite a sturdy thing, solid, made out of metal”. He drank a beer, smoked a cigarette and then asked Faye if he could borrow it and she said “No No No” and so he put it down but said to her “come on” and couldn’t ascertain why she was so against him borrowing it and so he half jokingly reached for it and suddenly Faye was swinging it round and caught him with it on the right hand ring finger with the prongs. He also had little puncture marks on his left hand but he couldn’t recall those.

“He said that caused a flick of the switch in his head and he grabbed the hand rake. She then went into the kitchen and he followed her and whacked her twice over the head with it from behind. It wasn’t full power, but it was quite hard. Faye let out a bit of a yelp and then was screaming at him to “get out, get out” and he switched because of it.”

Mr Falk added: “She was trying to push him out of the kitchen into the lounge and out the front door. He saw the knife on the side and grabbed it in his right hand with the blade coming up from above his thumb in a clenched fist. She was standing in the middle of the kitchen and he was just in front of her. He said that the red mist came down and he started to stab and slash at her to get her away, however she was still screaming, shouting and still coming at him, pushing him out of the kitchen, into the lounge and he was fighting back.”

He only stopped his frenzied attack when Mark Patchett - a neighbour - and his wife came to check on Mrs Mills after hearing her screams.

When Leonard answered the door he was described as covered in blood and when Mr Patchett requested to see Mrs Mills he lunged at him with the knife.

Mr Falk said in police interview, Leonard had said he had not meant to try to kill her. He said: “He said that at no time did he want to kill Faye or even hurt her, that never entered his head. When he picked up the knife, he merely wanted to stop her screaming and shouting, however the more he was lashing out, the more she was screaming and it became more and more frantic. He had nothing against her and they’d always got on alright but he just exploded a little bit. He regretted it and wished he’d just walked away when she didn’t want to give him the shears.”

Leonard was also jailed for arson more than 10 years after he committed the murder - but was released a year before committing the latest attack.

A spokesman for The Parole Board said: “The Parole Board directed the release of Stephen Leonard following an oral hearing in July 2017.

“Tragically, there are rare occasions when offenders go on to commit serious further offences after being released by the Parole Board. Whilst this represents an extremely small proportion of cases considered, we do take each case extremely seriously and work with others in the criminal justice system to ensure that lessons are learned to help to prevent further tragedies.”

The Parole Board release prisoners on life licence - as in Leonard’s case following his murder conviction - to be managed in the community by the National Probation Service. The National Probation Service are able to recall the offender to custody at any point if their behaviour give rise to cause for concern.

When asked for comment The National Probation Service directed The Peterborough Telegraph to The National Parole Board.

The parole board said less than 1 per cent of offenders on licence commit serious further offences.

Leonard will now be sentenced on Friday, January 4 at Cambridge Crown Court.