Ex-prisoner who stabbed grandfather to death days after release detained indefinitely

Thomas O’Halloran, 87, was on mobility scooter when Lee Byer launched unprovoked ‘senseless and savage’ attack

Holly Evans,Jane Dalton
Friday 10 May 2024 16:53 BST
The moments before and after the killing

A former convict who repeatedly stabbed an elderly mobility scooter rider just days after being released from prison has been detained in hospital indefinitely.

Lee Byer, who was obsessed with The Hunger Games films, carried out a motiveless attack on 87-year-old Thomas O’Halloran in Greenford, west London, causing fatal injuries to his neck and chest.

The 45-year-old, of no fixed address, denied murder but admitted manslaughter by diminished responsibility after mental health reports found he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

The moment Lee Byer was arrested after killing 87-year-old Thomas O’Halloran

He later wrote repeatedly about a Hunger Games scenario in which he was required to meet “contestants” and then fight or attack, the Old Bailey was told.

Byer, who also admitted having an offensive weapon, was sentenced on Friday to an indefinite hospital order.

The court heard that shortly after 4pm on 16 August 2022, a passer-by discovered Mr O’Halloran on his scooter coming from a passageway near Runnymede Gardens.

The beloved grandfather, who was originally from Co Clare in western Ireland, was able to say that he had been stabbed, and wounds could be seen on his body.

Thomas O’Halloran, 87, was stabbed to death on his mobility scooter (Metropolitan Police/PA)
Thomas O’Halloran, 87, was stabbed to death on his mobility scooter (Metropolitan Police/PA) (PA Wire)

Police arrived within minutes but Mr O’Halloran collapsed, and despite the best efforts of paramedics, was pronounced dead at the scene.

A post-mortem examination found he had suffered multiple stab wounds to his upper body. Police launched a major investigation, circulating CCTV images of his attacker fleeing the scene while carrying a knife.

Byer was recognised by people working in the criminal justice system, having been released from Wormwood Scrubs prison only five days earlier, having served a full 12-year sentence for robbery.

Footage had shown Mr O’Halloran and Byer heading towards the passageway, with no one else seen leaving the scene while the victim was attacked.

CCTV was released of Byer running from the scene (Metropolitan Police/PA)
CCTV was released of Byer running from the scene (Metropolitan Police/PA) (PA Wire)

As he left the passageway, he could be seen carrying a knife and was further caught on camera depositing a knife handle in a drain on the way back to his mother’s house.

When discovered by police, a forensic analysis found the victim’s blood on the handle, although the blade was never found.

On 18 August, he was arrested at his mother’s house and told police: “Murder? I was in prison at the time.”

Clothes matching those seen on CCTV were found in a search of the property as well as a knife set with handles similar to the one found in the drain.

Byer was caught on CCTV hiding the knife down a nearby drain
Byer was caught on CCTV hiding the knife down a nearby drain (Met Police)

Police also alleged Byer had tried to burn the clothes he was wearing in his mother’s garden.

In police interviews, he denied being the suspect caught on CCTV, claiming he was in his mother’s garden or the park at the time.

A report on his mental health later found that he was psychotic, hearing voices, suffering from paranoid delusions and paranoid schizophrenia.

Prior to killing Mr O’Halloran, he had 15 previous convictions against him for 30 offences dating back to when he was 14.

In 2011, he was convicted of robbery after recruiting a group of men to steal jewellery and money from shops in Victoria and Richmond and was jailed for 12 years.

Lee Byer pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the basis of diminished responsibility
Lee Byer pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the basis of diminished responsibility (Met Police )

In a televised sentencing on Friday, Judge Mark Lucraft KC handed him a hospital order with restrictions.

The judge said it was a senseless and savage killing of a much-loved man with no provocation and no rational motive.

He noted concerns over Byer’s mental health were raised in 2020 when there were reports he was hearing voices and tried to take his own life.

Mr O’Halloran was survived by his family, including his sister, two brothers, nieces and nephews.

He was known to be a passionate musician who regularly busked for charity outside the local Tesco’s in Greenford, raising money for Ukraine.

On behalf of the O’Halloran family, grandson Dennis Lintern condemned Byer for his “horrendous act of cowardice”.

Mr O’Halloran was randomly attacked by Lee Byer in a passageway in Greenford
Mr O’Halloran was randomly attacked by Lee Byer in a passageway in Greenford (Met Police)

Mr Lintern described his grandfather as a “gentle, loving, man who spent his life working and helping everyone he could”.

He said: “He was minding his own business doing what he loved, playing his accordion to make people smile and enjoy his music which he had done for many years.”

In mitigation for Byer, Satyanand Beharrylal KC said he displayed a “questionable reality” when he wrote his defence statement referencing the Hollywood series Hunger Games about a violent dystopia.

Since then, he had expressed regret for what happened and apologised for it, the defence lawyer said.

When Mr O’Halloran died, Fine Gael senator Martin Conway said he visited Ireland regularly and that his death had left his home community in Ennistymon in “deep shock and sadness”.

“Tommy, as he was known, left Ennistymon for London 71 years ago but travelled home almost every year until about 10 years ago,” he said.

Police said the killing left a community shocked and horrified. Detective Inspector Laura Nelson said: “His loss is felt greatly within his family. He certainly showed no signs of slowing down in his old age. He was head of the family. He looked after his family, cared for them.

“He enjoyed playing his accordion and he was very well known throughout the community for that.

“I think the community were just shocked. Really, really horrified.”

She said: “It was a very fast-paced investigation. I had a team of people specifically working on trying to track the suspect’s movements from CCTV.”

The hospital order sentence would help protect the public, Ms Nelson added.

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