Knifeman took cab home then returned to continue series of attacks, court told

Zephaniah McLeod pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Jacob Billington after attacks in Birmingham city centre on September 6.

Zephaniah McLeod. (West Midlands Police/PA)
Zephaniah McLeod. (West Midlands Police/PA)

A man who stabbed a university worker to death took a taxi home part-way through his spree before returning to attack more victims, a court has been told.

Zephaniah McLeod pleaded guilty to 23-year-old graduate Jacob Billington’s manslaughter at Birmingham Crown Court on Monday.

He also admitted further serious charges over the spate of stabbings in the early hours of September 6 last year.

Birmingham stabbings
Jacob Billington was fatally stabbed in the neck (West Midlands Police/PA)

At a previous court hearing, days after McLeod’s arrest on September 7, prosecutors detailed how, having already slashed and stabbed three people in Birmingham city centre, the 28-year-old dumped the weapon in a roadside drain and “ordered a taxi” home.

The convicted robber got a new knife and returned in the cab to carry out further attacks, including the one on Mr Billington, who was enjoying a night out with friends in the city.

The court heard of the “ferocity” of the attacks, some of which were captured on CCTV.

McLeod, who has previous convictions for firearm possession, assault and supplying drugs, also admitted four counts of attempted murder on Monday.

He pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted murder, but admitted three charges of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm in connection with those incidents.

The court heard he was suffering paranoid schizophrenia at the time.

McLeod, of Nately Grove, Selly Oak, Birmingham, has been in custody since being charged with committing the attacks, which happened in the space of 90 minutes.

Mr Billington, a Sheffield Hallam University graduate intern and drummer, was fatally stabbed in the neck.

The 23-year-old, from Crosby, Merseyside, was among eight people stabbed during the attacks which triggered a major emergency services response.

His mother was in court and his father dialled in to the video-link to hear the pleas, while family members from a number of other victims also listened in.

Seven other people were injured in four clusters of attacks across the city centre, including Mr Billington’s old school friend and bandmate Michael Callaghan.

In a previous court hearing on September 10, prosecution barrister Peter Grieves-Smith said: “He (McLeod) armed himself with two separate knives, aimed at parts of the body – head, neck and chest – where the most severe injury would be caused.

“If some victims sustained physical injuries that weren’t as serious as others, that is by chance, not design.”

Birmingham stabbings
Police at McLeod’s home in Birmingham (Jacob King/PA)

The Crown’s counsel said: “All these offences involved attacks on members of the public.

“They were totally unprovoked and in each case a knife was used.

“The first three offences occurred in quick succession, before the defendant left the scene, returned to his home address, got himself another knife and returned to commit the later offences.

“At that point – after committing the first offences – his identity was unknown.”

Mr Grieves-Smith said the first attack, on a 33-year-old man, happened “just after 12.30am” on Constitution Hill, on the outskirts of the city centre.

The barrister said: “The man was approached by a stranger who asked him for a cigarette, and then stabbed him to the neck with force.

“He (the victim) ran from scene with a cut to the neck.”

Twenty-five minutes later, a 25-year-old woman who had just left work was in nearby Livery Street, “looking at her phone”, when “she was struck to the face”.

Birmingham stabbings
The scene of the stabbings in Irving Street (Jacob King/PA)

“She saw her attacker with a knife about six inches in length,” added the barrister.

“He struck her again, between her neck and shoulders and she managed to move away, whilst flagging down passing cars.

“She sustained a stab wound at the top of the shoulder and facial injuries, in an attack captured on CCTV.”

The third victim, a 29-year-old man, was attacked in Barwick Street, with “two severe stab wounds” leaving him in critical condition.

A knife was recovered in a nearby drain by specialist police search teams the following day, with CCTV later showing McLeod “leaning down near the drain” and initial DNA findings also linking him to the weapon.

McLeod was then shown on CCTV in the city’s main Victoria Square, before heading into a pizza takeaway where he “asked for a knife – but this was declined”.

Birmingham stabbings
A police forensics officer holding a sealed container with a black handled knife inside (Jacob King/PA)

He instead “ordered a taxi”, and arrived at his home at 1.29am before “leaving four minutes later”.

Mr Grieves-Smith said: “Therefore, for a period of time, he wasn’t at large in the city centre.

“He couldn’t be located and couldn’t be arrested, because he left the town centre in a taxi to go home, to get another weapon.

“Indeed, after he was arrested a box of knives was found at his home.

“He had chosen a knife and returned to the city centre.

“The next attacks were in Irving Street, near the Ibis hotel where, at 1.50am… Jacob Billington was killed and his friend Michael Callaghan was stabbed.

“They were with a group of friends returning to their hotel after a night out when the defendant approached them.

“Mr Billington was fatally stabbed in neck and shoulder.”

Mr Callaghan, 23, was wounded in the neck.

At 2am, two other men, aged 29 and 24, and a 23-year-old woman were attacked in Hurst Street.

All three have since recovered, according to police.

On Monday, McLeod appeared in court by video-link from Ashworth high security hospital wearing a white T-shirt and dark blue zip-up top, to enter pleas.

Prosecutor Karim Khalil QC told the court the guilty and not guilty pleas were acceptable to the prosecution.

He said: “The psychiatrists instructed by both the Crown and the defence concluded in agreement with one another that the defendant clearly suffered from a condition of paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the material events.

“It was unquestionably a condition which affected his ability to understand all that was going on.”

Mr Khalil said consultations had taken place before the decision with victims, and the parents of Mr Billington.

McLeod will be sentenced, pending psychiatric reports, on September 27 and 28.

Speaking after the pleas, Detective Chief Inspector Jim Munro, of West Midlands Police, said “an immense amount of co-ordination” to piece together vast amounts of CCTV footage and “match the clothing McLeod wore to witness and victim descriptions” allowed officers to arrest him within 24 hours.

Mr Munro 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 automatically linked.

“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.”

He said he was pleased the victims and their families had been spared the ordeal of a trial, but McLeod had “never given an explanation for his actions”, leaving “no closure for his victims”.

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