Gardener smashes neighbour’s walls with axe after terminal cancer diagnosis

A man who took an axe to a stranger's garden walls after finding out his aunt had terminal cancer has been spared jail.

Stephen Wilshaw, 52, caused £1,200 in damage when he struck out in a rage while holding an axe he had been using to garden at the woman's home in Biddulph, Staffordshire.

He was told of her diagnosis upon his arrival, and as he walked home he lost his cool and swung the axe which damaged her neighbour's garden walls and smashed a wing-mirror, Stoke on Trent Live reports.

Now the defendant – who has 29 previous convictions for 58 offences – has been spared an immediate jail sentence.

Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court heard Wilshaw smashed ornaments on the garden walls as he walked down Albert Street at 8.30am on October 8, 2019. The homeowner had to take a day off work as a result of the vandalism and lost £400 in earnings.

Prosecutor David Jackson said: "CCTV footage showed the defendant causing the damage. The ornamental items were 180 years old. They are extremely rare and cost £300 each.

"The defendant was seen by another neighbour to take a swing at a wing-mirror of a car. The axe was recovered from the defendant's home."

Wilshaw, of Craigside, Biddulph, pleaded guilty to having the axe in public and three charges of damaging property.

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It was on the basis that he had taken the axe, a saw and secateurs to the property only to learn of the cancer diagnosis and then lash out in distress.

The defendant – who lives with his dementia-suffering dad – was jailed for eight years in 2012 for wounding with intent. He has been fully compliant with the probation service since his release from prison nearly five years ago.

He has now been handed a 14-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months. It includes 200 hours unpaid work and a 30-day rehabilitation activity requirement. He must also pay £400 compensation to one householder and £200 to the other.

Recorder Charles Falk said it would be 'unjust' to jail Wilshaw. The defendant is currently engaged.

He told Wilshaw: "This happened at 8.30am in a residential street where parents were getting their children ready to do the school run. And there you were, walking up and down the street, with a large axe, with a three foot wooden handle and a rusty metal head.

"You were agitated. It must have been an unnerving spectacle for spectators.

"I am of the view it would be unjust to send you to jail."

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