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UK News

Hero church warden killed while saving woman from stabbing attack

by Will Maule

An elderly church warden was "selfless and brave" in his attempts to protect a young woman from a stabbing attack, a court has heard.

John Rees, 88, was stabbed in the face and beaten to death after he stepped in to try to stop the attack at his local co-op shop in Penygraig, Wales, back in May.

On Wednesday, Zara Anne Radcliffe, 30, who was suffering from schizophrenia at the time of the attack, pleaded not guilty to murder but admitted manslaughter on the basis of diminished responsibility. She also pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of three others.

Prosecutor Michael Jones QC, called Rees' intervention a "selfless and brave act which cost him his life".

Entering the co-op and seeing Radcliffe stabbing 65-year-old nurse Gaynor Saurin, Jones said that Rees "showed great courage" by attempting to tackle the assailant, who then stabbed him in the face and beat him with a glass bottle and fire extinguisher, killing him.

Rees was remembered by his family as "the very definition of a good man, extremely respected and liked in the community."

The family added that John "was proud of his family, proud to be a Welshman and devoted to All Saints church."

"We will all miss him terribly," they said.

In a separate impact statement, Rees' son-in-law Patrick Davison Houston told the court that he was "warm, generous and humble gentleman."

"We are proud of his actions on that day but not surprised," he added. 

Rees leaves behind his 87-year-old wife, Eunice, who was waiting outside in the car while her husband was attacked in the shop.

When police arrived at the scene, Radcliffe told them that "voices in her head" had instructed her to kill someone. "It had to be done - that's it," she said to officers. 

Jones told the court that the psychiatric evidence in the case demonstrates that at the time of the offending "Miss Radcliffe was profoundly mentally ill and unwell."

He added: “Those pleas represent, the crown contend, the factual evidence in this case and the psychiatric evidence in this case, namely at the material time and currently, Miss Radcliffe sufferers from schizophrenia.”

A judge at Merthyr Crown Court sentenced Radcliffe to indefinite hospital orders under sections 37 and 41 of the Mental Health Act. Appearing in court via video link from a secure hospital unit in Nottinghamshire, Radcliffe was told that, in a bid to protect the public, her sentence would not be time-limited. 

Radcliffe's father claimed that he had phoned mental health services on the morning of the attack after noticing that his daughter's condition was deteriorating and insisting that she "needed to be admitted to hospital as a matter of urgency."

"[I said] 'can someone please come out as a matter of urgency, my daughter needs help', and nobody came," Mr Radcliffe said, before claiming that "nobody came to assist us."

In response, Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board said it ensures "rigorous reviews into all incidents to ensure that our practice and systems are changed or improved wherever necessary."

"With legal proceedings in this case now concluded, we will continue at pace with this work," the board added.

"This is a distressing and tragic case, and we extend our condolences to the family and friends of the deceased, and to all of those involved in this sad incident in one of our communities.

"We are also offering support to anyone in the community who may have been affected by this incident."

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