Champion runner jailed for attempted murder of UK Athletics official

Frances Perraudin North of England reporter
Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Lauren Jeska. Photograph: Elizabeth Cook/AP

A champion fell-runner has been sentenced to 18 years in jail for the attempted murder of a UK Athletics official at a stadium in Birmingham.

Lauren Jeska, 42, from Machynlleth in Powys, pleaded guilty to trying to kill Ralph Knibbs, who is head of human resources and welfare at the sport’s British governing body as well as a former professional rugby player.

In what was described as a “cold, calculated attack”, the transgender athlete stabbed Knibbs multiple times in the head and neck after a dispute over whether she should be able to compete in women’s races.

Jeska was the women’s 2010, 2011 and 2012 English fell-running champion, and won the British Championship in 2012. However, Richard Atkins QC told the court the runner had “not provided the relevant samples to her testosterone levels and other relevant documentation” to the governing body and, as a result, had had her racing results declared void in September 2015.

On 22 March 2016, Jeska drove for nearly two hours from her home in Wales to the offices of UK Athletics at the Alexander stadium in Birmingham, arriving at about 10.30am. She asked at reception to see Knibbs and took two knives out of her bag while the receptionist went to get him.

The court was shown CCTV footage of Jeska then walking into the company’s open plan office before launching an attack on Knibbs. One witness said the attack was carried out in such a frenzy that Jeska looked like she was trying to “skewer meat”.

The court heard that Knibbs’s life had been saved by quick-thinking colleagues, who stepped in to restrain Jeska and used their knowledge of first aid to stem the bleeding from a 2cm hole in his neck. Tim Begley and Kevin Taylor both sustained injuries that required treatment when they stepped in to help.

Knibbs, 52, a former Bristol RFC centre who represented England at under-23 level, said the “traumatic, life-changing experience” had left him with permanent partial sight loss, robbing him of his independence.

The former rugby player, who is known for turning down the opportunity to tour with England in South Africa in 1984 in protest against apartheid, said he felt very lucky to be alive and that the near-death experience had made him reevaluate what was important in life.

“It still doesn’t feel like it happened to me,” he told the court. “It feels like it happened to someone else.I used to think I could protect my family and myself, but that is not the case.”

The court was told that Jeska had told a psychiatrist that “she fantasised about going to the Alexander stadium and killing all of the staff” and, in his sentencing, Judge Simon Drew QC concluded that she posed a significant risk of harming the public.

Jeska, who gave no reaction to the sentence, was handed concurrent jail terms after also previously admitting two counts of assaulting Begley and Taylor and carrying knives in public. She was given an extended licence of five years, to be served after her release.

Julie Warburton, representing Jeska, said the athlete had “struggled as a child to fit in and find her place in the world”. People who knew her said she had “a compliant nature” and was “certainly not aggressive”, she said.

Following her gender reassignment surgery in 2000 she “for the very first time in her life felt she belonged”, said Warburton. “She felt accepted and loved by the fell-running community,” she added.

In a statement released to the media before the sentencing, Jeska’s parents, Pauline and Graham Jameson, said the attack had been completely out of character for their daughter and that the “stress and confusion” of the dispute with UK Athletics had triggered a mental health crisis.

“As the parents of Lauren Jeska, we deeply regret the injury inflicted on Ralph Knibbs. We want him to know that we are praying for a full recovery, physically and emotionally, for him and for our daughter, and for anyone else affected by this incident, which has been traumatic for all concerned,” the statement read.

The decision by UK Athletics to remove Jeska from their lists had left the runner feeling traumatised and having “flashbacks which caused fantasies of doing something drastic”, her parents said. “She twice asked for help from the NHS, but was not referred for psychiatric help”, they added.

Speaking to the press outside Birmingham crown court on Tuesday, DS Sally Olsen, of West Midlands police, said: “We understand Jeska had been asked to provide further evidence of hormone levels after historical complaints to UK Athletics that she had an unfair advantage competing in women’s events because she had been born a man.

“The governing body’s policy required the athlete to take a blood test but she took exception to this and feared being unable to compete.

“Jeska carried out a violent and unprovoked attack on a man whose sole objective was to enable her to compete. She will now have plenty of time behind bars to contemplate the devastating consequences of her actions.”

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes