Public schoolboy who attacked sleeping students with hammers fell out with victim over girl

Blundells School, Tiverton
Blundells School, Tiverton

A teenager who launched a hammer attack on fellow pupils at a prestigious boarding school fell out with one of his victims over a school science project and his obsession with a mutual female friend, it can now be revealed.

The 17-year-old, who cannot be named because of his age, claimed he had been sleepwalking when he launched the late-night assault on two of his fellow roommates and his housemaster at Blundell’s School in Tiverton, Devon, in June last year.

He insisted he had been friends with the boys in his dormitory and would never have tried to harm them intentionally.

But it can now be revealed that the teenager developed a grudge against his younger roommate following a minor disagreement over a science assignment.

Their relationship then further soured because he had a crush on a girl who was close friends with the younger boy.

Shortly after midnight on June 9 last year, after listening to violent music, he climbed out of his bed and attacked his two roommates with a claw hammer while they slept.

When Henry Roffe-Silvester, the 39-year-old housemaster, went to investigate he was also attacked.

Sleepwalking claim rejected

The teenager’s claims that he had been sleepwalking were rejected by the jury who found him guilty of attempted murder.

The boy, who is from the Far East, joined the school aged 13 and was initially placed in a large dormitory in Blundell’s Old House, where he was required to share with six other boys.

But halfway through the school year he requested a move to the smaller Petergate House and was pleased when he was told he would be sharing with the two boys as he considered them friends.

He was particularly close to the younger boy who was a flexi-boarder, which meant he returned home at weekends.

He told the court: “I liked [the older boy], he was a very generous and friendly boy. I had a very good relationship with him I would say.

“I liked [the younger boy] because he was a very kind boy, a polite boy, we played games together.

“There were times we had arguments or disagreements. They did not last a long time, not really. I was happy about sharing a room with him and [the older boy].”

But in early 2023 the pair had a minor disagreement while working together on a science project.

The defendant, who has been diagnosed with autism, had suggested they work together to build a chess robot.

But he became offended when his younger roommate laughed at the idea, dismissing it as foolish.

Enraged at the slight, he did not speak to him for days and later admitted their relationship was never the same afterwards.

Revenge after row over science project

Following the row the older boy took revenge by smashing up his desk and making a mess of his files.

But while the argument over the chess robot may have caused tension, it was their shared friendship with a female Blundell’s pupil that is thought to have led to violence.

The 15-year-old girl was good friends with the younger boy and they were both members of a school music club.

But the defendant was jealous of their friendship because he considered her to be his girlfriend.

Asked to describe the nature of their relationship, he replied: “It was deeper than a friend. I think she showed that to me too.”

He set up an Instagram account pretending to be a middle-aged man in order to communicate with the girl, later claiming it had just been an experiment.

Over the Christmas holidays in 2022 he began bombarding his roommate with abusive messages, mocking him over his personal hygiene.

On one day he sent messages 24 times, the next 75 times and the third 375, prompting the victim to reply: “Why are you being so mean. Can you stop? Thanks.”

During this period he also sent him a picture of Leatherface, a character from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, attacking someone and sending up a spray of blood from their body.

‘I f---ing hate you’

On Dec 28 2022, he sent another message saying: “I hate you. I f---ing hate you”, followed by a further one stating: “Now I really f---ing hate you.”

When the victim politely asked him to stop swearing he replied: “Nope” and “Imagine not being liked by [girl]”, followed by “ f---ing die”.

The younger boy sent a pleading message, saying: “It’s not nice. Can you please stop. What did I do to deserve this? If you carry on like this I will have to speak to the housemaster.”

But the abuse continued during the school holidays and on New Year’s Day he sent another message to his roommate telling him he “stank” followed by “f--- you” and “please cry”.

When they returned to school after the holidays Mr Roffe-Silvester spoke to the 17-year-old about his bullying.

But questioned about it in court, the boy said: “I did not perceive it as that. I was just joking around with him. I told [the younger boy] to f--- off. I spoke to him but I cannot remember if I said sorry. I thought it was joking conversation.”

In January 2023 he started sending manipulative messages about the girl to the younger boy.

In one exchange he told him that the girl hated him, another pupil hated him and he hated him too.

But questioned about the messages during his trial, he dismissed it as “banter”.

Internet research on serial killers

It was around this time that he also began researching serial killers and prison sentences for murderers.

When his devices were examined by police they revealed he had carried out searches for “hammers”, “serial killers”, “murders”, “murder with a hammer”, “can a hammer be used as a weapon”, “youngest spree killer” and “killing victims while they are sleeping”.

Around that time he also bought a hammer as a weapon in a local hardware store in Tiverton, later claiming he needed it as protection against a “zombie apocalypse”.

Staff at the £45,000-a-year school became aware that some pupils including the defendant were stockpiling hammers and other potential weapons in the months before the attack.

The problem became so acute that they even held a “tools’ amnesty” urging children to hand in any illicit weapons without punishment.

The amnesty was triggered when cleaners or the matron discovered some of the boys, including the defendant, had hammers in their rooms.

Mr Roffe-Silvester explained that he confiscated hammers from two boys, including the defendant, and told them to take them home and not bring them into school, adding: “We just don’t want them in the house.”

Rather than get rid of them, however, the boy hid them under his bed along with other weapons, including some knives.

‘Obsession with the killing of children’

During the trial, James Dawes KC, prosecuting, told jurors: “The investigation has uncovered an obsession that the defendant had with one of the boys, an obsession with hammers as weapons, and an obsession with killing and killers and the killing of children.

“He had motive, that he had planned something like this, thought about it in advance, and he was awake.

“He was using his iPad right up to the moment before the attack.”

The 16-year-old was wearing just his boxer shorts and was allegedly “on a mission” to protect himself from a zombie apocalypse when he carried out the attack.

The teenager admitted assaulting the two boys and the housemaster but claimed he was sleepwalking.

Exeter Crown Court heard that the youth had armed himself with three claw hammers and waited for the two boys to be asleep before attacking them.

The two pupils were asleep in cabin-style beds in one of the co-ed school’s boarding houses when the defendant climbed up and attacked them shortly before 1am on June 9 last year.

Mr Roffe-Silvester, who was asleep in his own quarters, was awoken by noises coming from the boarding house and went to investigate.

When he entered the bedroom where the attack had happened, he saw a silhouetted figure standing in the room, who then turned towards him and repeatedly struck him over the head with a hammer.

Another student heard Mr Roffe-Silvester shouting and swearing as he fled the bedroom and dialled 999, believing there was an intruder.

The two boys were discovered in their beds a few minutes later.

They had suffered skull fractures, as well as injuries to their ribs, spleen, a punctured lung and internal bleeding.

Both are living with the “long-term consequences” of the attack but have no memory of the incident.

Mr Roffe-Silvester suffered six blows to his head.

The defendant maintained he was sleepwalking at the time of the attacks, meaning he would be not guilty of attempted murder by reason of insanity.

The jury found the defendant guilty of three counts of attempted murder after 40 hours of deliberation.

Trial judge Mrs Justice Cutts said she would adjourn sentencing for the preparation of pre-sentence reports, including a psychiatric report, and would pass sentence on Oct 18.

‘I didn’t remember doing anything’

Giving evidence, the boy told jurors he remembered going to sleep before the attack and then seeing the dormitory covered in blood.

“I knew something really bad had gone on and everyone was looking towards me,” he said.

“I didn’t remember doing anything so the only rational thing I was thinking was that I was sleepwalking.”

The boy added: “I feel very terribly sorry for all three individuals because of what I did to them.

“I feel very sorry for everyone, the families and themselves.”

Speaking after the verdicts, Detective Inspector Dave Egan, of Devon and Cornwall Police, described the attacks as “brutal and savage”.

He said: “This was an unprovoked attack on two schoolboys as they slept in their beds. The assaults were both brutal and savage and I believe that his intent was to kill.

“Our detectives worked tirelessly to prove that the offender had indeed been fully conscious when committing this horrendous attack - which had been pre-planned.”

‘Boys are lucky to still be alive’

Helen Phillips, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “This was a terrifying attack on two defenceless boys sleeping in their beds, who are lucky to still be alive,” she said.

“The pupil’s thirst for violence then saw him turn his attention to the housemaster, who was struck by a hammer but bravely intervened and stopped him in his tracks.

“The boy, who had a macabre interest in murder, serial killers, and violence, showed no remorse and naively thought that by concocting a story about sleepwalking at the time of the attack he could evade punishment.”

In a letter to parents, Bart Wielenga, the headmaster of Blundell’s School, said he hoped the jury’s verdicts “bring a degree of closure” for those involved.

Mr Wielenga said: “I remain tremendously proud of our school community and its response to circumstances that have been profoundly shocking and entirely unprecedented.

“No school would ever wish something like this, but the conduct of pupils, staff, parents and the wider Blundell’s community throughout the past year has only been encouraging and reassuring.”

Mr Wielenga added: “We continue to be thankful for the remarkable recovery made by all the victims and those affected by the event.

“We are mindful that the psychological wounds sometimes take longer to heal than the physical ones, and we will continue to exercise vigilance and care in supporting all the staff and pupils directly or indirectly involved.”