Paranoid schizophrenic who killed three had been arrested for attacking farmer just days before, it emerges

Alexander Lewis-Ranwell being released from Barnstaple Police Station, hours before he killed three elderly men
Alexander Lewis-Ranwell being released from Barnstaple Police Station, hours before he killed three elderly men Credit: PA

A paranoid schizophrenic who killed three pensioners in the space of a few hours in Exeter, has been found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.

Alexander Lewis-Ranwell, a former public schoolboy, who bludgeoned three elderly men to death, was suffering from delusions that led him to wrongly believe he was uncovering a paedophile ring, his trial heard.

Lewis-Ranwell, was charged with killing Anthony Payne, 80, and twins Dick and Roger Carter, 84, at their homes in Exeter on Feb 10 this year.

In the days before the attacks, Lewis-Ranwell was arrested twice by police - once for attacking an elderly farmer with a saw - but was released on both occasions.

On Feb 8 he was detained by officers on suspicion of burglary at a farm.

Anthony Payne was attacked in his home

Following his arrest his mother told police she was gravely concerned about his well being, but he was allowed to go the following morning.

A jury at Exeter Crown Court had to decide whether Lewis-Ranwell, 28, "did not know it was against the law" when he killed the three men.

The panel of eight men and four women took six hours and 15 minutes to return their unanimous verdicts.

Before returning their verdicts, the jury had given a note to the judge in which they raised their concerns about the "state of psychiatric services in the county of Devon and the failings in care in Lewis-Ranwell's case and will be appropriately addressed following these verdicts".

Three psychiatrists agreed Lewis-Ranwell was insane at the time he battered Mr Payne with a hammer and bludgeoned to death with a shovel Dick and Roger Carter.

Three psychiatrists had agreed Lewis-Ranwell was insane at the time

But the prosecution argued the defendant bore some responsibility for what happened.

The court heard the former scaffolder was gripped by paranoid schizophrenia and suffering from delusions about saving young girls from a paedophile ring.

The "whirlwind of destruction" took place three hours apart at two houses just a mile-and-a-half away from each other in Exeter on February 10 this year.

Just hours before Lewis-Ranwell attacked Mr Payne in an upstairs bedroom of his terrace home, he had been released from police custody after being arrested for attacking farmer John Ellis, 82, with a saw.

This was his second arrest in the space of 24 hours and occurred just seven hours after he had been arrested for attempted burglary at another farm.

The court also heard evidence of Lewis-Ranwell's interaction with various health professionals during his three spells in custody between February 8 and 11.

After his first arrest his mother, Jill Lewis-Ranwell, had phoned police expressing "grave concerns should he be released" but was charged and let go.

Alexander Lewis-Ranwell being released from Barnstaple Police Station

He was released from custody at Barnstaple police station at 2.49am on February 9 but returned there seven hours later after attacking Mr Ellis.

A 12-minute triage call with a mental health practitioner at 3pm identified "potential psychotic symptoms present including paranoid beliefs".

An inspector reviewing his detention wrote at 4.11pm that Lewis-Ranwell "potentially presents as a serious risk to the public if released".

A forensic medical examiner - a doctor employed by G4S Health Services - was escorted to Lewis-Ranwell's cell at 6.30pm but deemed he was not "acutely unwell" and a full mental health assessment was not carried out.

Dr Mihal Pichui told jurors he left the police station with the "expectation" he would be seen by a mental health nurse the following morning but later found out this did not happen.

Lewis-Ranwell was released from Barnstaple police station at 9.32am and travelled to Exeter.

He entered the home of Mr Payne in the St David's area of the city at about 12.30pm and picked up a rusty hammer, which he used to bludgeon the pensioner to death.

Lewis-Ranwell then scaled the wall of the Carter brothers' home in Cowick Lane, taking a spade from the garden and using it to beat them both to death.

He was arrested for a third time a day after the killings following an incident at a hotel in Exeter where he attacked night manager Stasys Belevicius.

While in custody concerns were raised about his mental health and he was transferred to a psychiatric unit for assessment.

The defendant told a psychiatrist following his detention at Broadmoor secure hospital: "I cannot believe no-one helped me - they let me out twice when I was unwell."

One doctor said the defendant was living in a "very nightmarish world" and believed he had a "moral justification" for the killings because he was rescuing people.

Lewis-Ranwell also thought the police had "sanctioned his actions" because they had twice released him from custody.

Another psychiatrist said he was on a "quest" to rescue girls from a locked cellar.

A spokesman for Devon County Council said: "There were conversations throughout Saturday afternoon between DPT’s Diversion and Liaison team and the County Council’s Emergency Duty Team about the process for requesting a mental health assessment, and a course of action was identified to include the Forensic Medical Examiner. 

"A telephone call around 7pm from the Forensic Medical Examiner confirmed in his view there that there was no evidence of acute mental illness warranting hospital admission, and that a Mental Health Act assessment was not required at this time."

Dr David Somerfield, Medical Director at Devon Partnership Trust, said: "We extend our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the victims of these tragic events.

"We would welcome an opportunity to determine what lessons there are to be learned by any of the agencies or individuals involved - including the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, Devon County Council, Devon Partnership Trust and the Crown Prosecution Service."

Police outside Roger and Dick Carter's property

Farmer blames authorities for letting Lewis-Ranwell walk free to kill

An 83-year-old farmer who was nearly the first victim of Alexander Lewis-Ranwell on Monday blamed the authorities for letting him walk free and kill three vulnerable old men.

Smallholder John said it was only by sheer good fortune that he was not the first victim of the killing spree.

He said from his home at Goodleigh, North Devon:"He wanted to kill me. He would have killed me but the saw he armed himself with, broke as did a four foot long stick he stabbed me in the heart with.

"It was attempted murder. If the authorities had put him away after the attack on me, then there would not have been three dead men in Exeter."

Paranoid schizophrenic Lewis-Ranwell had been released by police for a second time in three days before he went to the Ellis's smallholding on the morning of February 9th - a day before he killed the trio.

A retired WPC neighbour called him to say she had spotted 'an odd looking fellow carrying a stick and a large saw walk across our field leaving the gate open for the sheep to escape'.

Maureen Ellis also called on her husband to help after the stranger tried to let their alpacas escape from the coral.

He struck John with the stick and swung the four foot long rusty logging saw at knee height - as Mrs Ellis ran to the house to call the police.

John said:"The fellow moved very quickly towards me and swung the saw in a large arc at his shoulder height. The saw was aiming to decapitate me. I was aware of the swinging blade and, purely by reaction, my left arm shot up to protect my head. The saw contacted my wrist and I sustained an injury."

As John ran back 50 yards to his house, Lewis-Ranwell was behind him and he lifted his stick and 'stabbed me in the heart area with three rapid jabs over the top of the gate'.

But as he tried to spear it down on John, it broke off near his hand leaving him with just one foot of weapon left. But he hurled the stick at his head causing an injury to his scalp.

He tried to finish off John with the old saw but the handle broke off - and Lewis-Ranwell walked off down the drive.

He was treated in hospital and detective said Lewis-Ranwell had been arrested and was 'securely in a cell'.

But the next morning the police rang and he said a detective told him:"I have some very bad news for you. We have had orders from the Crown Prosecution Service that we must release him due to 'insufficient evidence'."

John feared he would return to 'finish the job and erase all witnesses'.