Zephaniah McLeod has been sentenced to at least 21 years. Photo: SWNS
The knifeman who stabbed Merseyside man Jacob Billington to death and left seven other people injured when he went on a knife rampage across Birmingham has been sentenced to life with a minimum term of 21 years.
Zephaniah McLeod, 28, who killed 23-year-old university worker Mr Billington on 6 September last year will initially serve his sentence at a high-security hospital.
Mr Billington, from Crosby, died after McLeod plunged a blade into his neck as he walked back to his hotel with friends following a night out.
Killer McLeod, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 2012, had pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Mr Billington at a court hearing in September last year.
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.
“Mistakes were made”
Paranoid schizophrenic McLeod was released from prison into the community with no support just months before he went on the stabbing spree in a city centre, the court heard.
Joanne Billington, the mother Jacob, said “mistakes were made” by prisons and mental health services who had contact with the killer before he struck.
“I’m hoping that we will get some genuine scrutiny of the agencies involved,” she said.
The court heard how McLeod had previous convictions for robbery, imitation firearm possession, assault and supplying drugs, and was known to the prison services.
He was also known to mental health services, had a history of hearing voices telling him to “stab” and “kill”, and had been suffering paranoid schizophrenia since 2012.
McLeod then missed a psychiatric assessment appointment just three days before he struck.
Mother left searching for answers
Mrs Billington said an NHS-led serious case review is currently under way into various agencies’ contact with McLeod, but a final report is not expected to be published until early next year.
She said: “It’s not like things like this haven’t happened before in Birmingham, so we’re hoping that that will be taken into account.
“The agencies who said they were going to make changes appear not to have made changes.
“For me, going forward - McLeod, let the legal system deal with him. But that other side is equally important to me.”
She added the review process has made it hard to get answers to many outstanding questions she has about McLeod, adding: “All they say is, ‘it’s gone to the review, you’ll have to wait for the report’.
“Because this individual was involved in so many different agencies, there’s about six different people that are contributing.
“He was in a lot of different prisons and all that sort of thing. It goes back quite a long way.”
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, West Midlands Police was criticised for the speed of its response to the incident, but it later emerged McLeod had gone home part-way through his spree, before returning to continue.
Mrs Billington said she has “no criticism of the police”, saying the situation was “confused” and McLeod’s behaviour “unusual”.
How the the awful events unfolded
McLeod, of Nately Grove, Selly Oak, Birmingham, carried out the apparently random and motiveless attacks in the space of 90 minutes.
Mr Billington was attacked after his attacker had collected another knife from his home and got a taxi back to the city centre, having already slashed and stabbed three people earlier that night.
Mr Billington was a talented musician who played drums for The Vedetts and he had been on a night out with old friends, including band-mate Michael Callaghan, that night.
After celebrating one of their birthdays, the group was walking back to the nearby Ibis Hotel when McLeod struck, with Mr Billington stabbed in the neck and shoulder in Irving Street, Birmingham, at about 01.50.
Mr Callaghan was gravely injured by a single stab wound to his neck but is continuing to make progress on what will be a long road to recovery.
The judge’s verdict
Ordering McLeod’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.”
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.”
A mother’s moving tribute
Paying tribute to her son, Mrs Billington said: “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. 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 with Jacob really.”
“He was playing in a band with Michael and some other friends,” said his mother. “Music was massive for Jacob. That was his big love.
“If it wasn’t playing in bands, it was going to see them, festivals, he lived for it really. I think his dream was always to be a musician. But he wanted to stay working for a university.
“He was very interested in the widening participation agenda in universities, getting people who wouldn’t traditionally go to apply for university.
“He really loved the university life and working there was a bonus for him.
“I think if he wasn’t going to be a rock star, he probably would have stayed in the higher education sector in some way.”
Reliving a nightmare
Mrs Billington described how an ordinary night out with friends became every parent’s “nightmare”, when she got a knock at the door from police in the early hours to tell her that her son was dead.
“I can still see him leaving the house with the lads in the car outside beeping the horns getting him to hurry out,” she said.
“He skipped out and we just thought he was going for a lovely night out with his friends.
“We just got a knock on the door - two police officers - it’s exactly how you think it is, ‘we’ve got something to tell you. Can we come in?’
“Then it was ‘We’re sorry to tell you that there’s been an incident in Birmingham and Jacob’s passed away’.”
There was little information as what exactly had happened - McLeod was not caught until the following day - so the family “had an hour where we knew he was dead”, but nothing about the friends he had been with, or whether it was an accident.
She then had the “awful” task of waking Mr Billington’s younger sisters and telling them what had happened.
“You feel like you had all the breath sucked out of you, is the best way I can describe it,” she said.