Man who ‘went mad’ with hammer and fractured neighbour’s skull jailed


A 36-year-old Cheltenham man who ‘went mad’ with a hammer and attacked a neighbour, fracturing his skull and nose, has been jailed for 22 months.

Prosecutor Chloe Griggs said Jerome Fryer was living in the same block of flats as Andrew Birchall at the time of the assault and there had been a history of disputes between them, Gloucester Crown Court heard yesterday (Aug 9)

Most recently, Fryer had accused Mr Birchall of damaging the communal intercom and puncturing the front tyre of his bike.

“Things came to a head on New Year’s Day this year when Mr Birchall heard a noise coming from the communal hallway, » said the prosecutor.

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« He thought he heard the noise of a blowtorch being used.

“Looking through the peephole Mr Birchall saw Fryer outside his door holding a blow torch. When Fryer disappeared from view Mr Birchall went outside to examine the burn damage to his door.

“Fryer then reappeared and challenged him over knocking his front door. Mr Birchall replied that he didn’t know what he was talking about. Fryer then proceeded to punch him to his face and he fell into his own hallway.

“A woman visiting Fryer at his flat came rushing out and tried to calm the situation down. Mr Birchall went back into his flat and shut his front door.

“About 10 minutes later Mr Birchall heard his bedroom window, which overlooked the street, being smashed.

“When Mr Birchall went out to inspect the damage Fryer was nowhere to be seen but as he re-entered the building Fryer returned, wielding a hammer, and shouted to him ‘I’m going to kill you’ before he hit Mr Birchall over the head.

“Mr Birchall retaliated by using a piece of wood and struck Fryer but his vision was now blurred because of the amount of blood in his eye.

“Mr Birchall retreated back to his flat and called the police, who in turn called an ambulance to take him to hospital.”

The court heard that Mr Birchall had eight separate lacerations across his head, two skull depression fractures and other significant bruising to his head, including nasal fractures, which required 20 stitches to be applied across his skull.

Mr Birchall was transferred to Southmead Hospital for specialist treatment. He spent a total of six days in hospital and had to be cared for by social services at his home until his injuries healed.

When Fryer was arrested he was also taken to hospital for treatment. When he was searched a quantity of cannabis was found in his possession. The police also found a blow torch and a hammer on a table along with a knife.

In his interview Fryer said he had knocked on Mr Birchall’s door and he had answered it holding a hammer. Fryer claimed Mr Birchall had swung the hammer towards him and while he was trying to disarm him Mr Birchall had unintentionally hit him and he then reacted in self defence.

Judge Ian Lawrie QC interjected: “It is more luck than judgement that we are not dealing with more serious injuries.”

The prosecutor said a woman who was visiting Fryer at the time later told the police he had been taking opium-based tablets and had been washing them down with whisky in a suicide attempt.

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Sarah Jenkins, defending, said: “At the time, Fryer was suffering from a number of mental health issues. He has a complicated background. He was also suffering because it was the anniversary of the death of his partner.

“Fryer was even trying to deliberately take his own life in front of a woman trying to help him. He would have been under the influence of this medication when the offending occurred.

“Subsequently he has very little recollection of events surrounding the incident. He was prescribed medication for his depression and anxiety. He also has a potential personality disorder, which has not yet been formally diagnosed.”

Judge Lawrie commented: “Fryer mixed the drugs he had taken with alcohol and went mad with a hammer. He must have been very angry.”

Ms Jenkins added: “It wasn’t until Fryer was remanded into custody that he began to get dry and began remembering things. This was the wake up call he needed. He has since been evicted from his flat and is now technically homeless.”

Fryer, formerly of Devonshire Street, Lansdown, Cheltenham, had denied assaulting Andrew Birchall causing him grievous bodily harm on January 1, 2021 but changed his plea to guilty on the day his trial was due to begin.

He also admitted doing criminal damage by destroying windows to the value of £527.64 and being in possession of a quantity of cannabis on the same date.

Judge Lawrie told Fryer: “I appreciate you had your own difficulties at the time and were indulging in self harm and taking drugs. What it meant was that after that initial confrontation with your neighbour you returned with a hammer before attacking him. You wielded the hammer repeatedly at him.

“You could have killed him. You know you will be receiving a custodial sentence. However in mental health terms you are vulnerable.”

The judge sentenced Fryer to 22 months in prison and ordered him to pay a victim surcharge of £156. The judge ordered the forfeiture and destruction of the drugs and the hammer.