Birmingham stabbings: Mother of victim Jacob Billington 'haunted' by his death as killer Zephaniah McLeod faces sentencing

·3-min read

A mother is "haunted" by the death of her "bright, cheeky and talented" son who was killed during a stabbing spree - revealing how she "didn't get a chance to say goodbye".

Jacob Billington, 23, "bled to death in the street" after being fatally wounded in the neck and shoulder by paranoid schizophrenic Zephaniah McLeod, during a series of "brutal" knife attacks in Birmingham city centre.

McLeod, 28, has admitted manslaughter by diminished responsibility over the killing of the musician, who worked at Sheffield Hallam University, in the early hours of 6 September last year.

Mr Billington's mother, Joanne, made an emotional statement at the start of a two-day sentencing hearing at Birmingham Crown Court.

She described how she is "haunted about how he died, how terrified he must have been".

"This tortures me every time I close my eyes," she said.

"I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to my son - he was dead before he knew anything was wrong."

McLeod has also admitted targeting seven other people during the rampage, including Mr Billington's friend and bandmate, Michael Callaghan, 24.

He was left gravely injured after being stabbed in the neck, leaving him partially paralysed and causing massive blood loss which triggered a stroke.

The pair were returning to their hotel after celebrating another friend's birthday.

Mr Callaghan, a medical engineer, told of his grief at losing his friend.

"Ever since McLeod murdered my friend... and stuck a knife in my neck, I often wish he had succeeded in killing me and still sometimes do," he said.

McLeod previously admitted four counts of attempted murder and three separate offences of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 2013 but "never" had proper treatment, the hearing was told.

McLeod, who has previous convictions for robbery, assault, supplying drugs and possession of an imitation firearm, had not been in contact with psychiatric health services since he was released from a three-year prison term in April 2020.

Mental health workers struggled to trace him after his release and were "not informed of his whereabouts," a psychiatrist told the court.

They only tracked him down after receiving a referral from McLeod's GP.

He was "unsupervised" in the community - despite a history of refusing to take his medication in prison.

McLeod also reported hearing voices saying "kill 'em, stab, stab 'em, they're talking about you", in 2018, the court was told.

He failed to attend a psychiatric assessment just four days before the killings.

Opening the case, prosecutor Karim Khalil QC said: "He armed himself with two large knives and aimed at parts of the body, namely the head, neck and chest where the most severe injuries would be likely to be caused.

"We suggest the fact some victims sustained physical injuries that weren't as serious was purely by chance, rather than by design."

After attacking three of his victims, McLeod, of Nately Grove, Selly Oak, Birmingham, disposed of one knife before taking a cab home to collect another 20cm blade, then returning to the city centre.

One of Mr Billington's younger sisters, Abbie, criticised authorities for allowing "unstable" McLeod to be "let loose".

"How has a man so unstable, in a mental health crisis, been able to go along the streets with a weapon?" she said.

Meanwhile his father, Keith, recalled his son's "humour" and "charm".

He described holding his hand on the first day of school, and watching Everton play football together.

He said his son, who lived in Crosby, Merseyside, had come "face-to-face with evil".

And he slammed McLeod for "bringing terror to the streets of Birmingham" and "portraying himself as a victim of the system".

"This man has no place in society, he is clearly one of the most dangerous people to have walked the streets of this city."

The hearing continues on Wednesday.

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