A 20-year-old man from Heanor tried to stab and strangle a housemate to death in “a completely unprovoked, inexplicable attack”, a court heard.
Donald Wilson hatched a plan to injure Ben Robertshaw with a kitchen knife, rob him of his Xbox and then sell it to pay a rent debt of £80 he owed.
But when he realised he “had not done a good enough job of hurting him, he had to kill him”, Nottingham Crown Court was told.
Mr Robertshaw said: “I felt I was going to die.” He was only saved when, by a lucky coincidence, Rachel Hale, a housing officer representing the property’s landlord, arrived at the house to collect the rent, saw him being attacked and called the police.
Wilson was sentenced to nine years in a young offenders’ institution after pleading guilty to the attempted murder of 22-year-old Mr Robertshaw at the house on Whysall Street, Heanor on the morning of Tuesday, April 19.
Judge Gregory Dickinson described it as “a very serious offence” but also a “baffling” one because there was nothing in Wilson’s background or character to excuse his behaviour.
Wilson had endured a “troubled” childhood when in the sole care of an abusive parent. And in the months before the offence, his life had been “in freefall” after losing his previous place to live, his job and his relationship.
Because he owed the rent and had no money, he was “terrified that he might be left homeless again, and his mind was in turmoil”, said his barrister, Steven Coupland, defending.
However, Wilson did not have any problems relating to drugs, alcohol or mental health, and a psychiactric report by an experienced consultant concluded he was “not dangerous or of significant risk to people in the future”.
Mr Robertshaw even considered him a friend, the court heard, after he had moved in about a month before the attack as one of three who shared the house.
But the mood changed when Wilson knocked on Mr Robertshaw’s bedroom door, lunged at him and wrestled him to the floor, Dawn Pritchard, prosecuting, said.
At first, Mr Robertshaw thought they were “playfighting”, and even when he spotted the six-inch knife, he didn’t realise he had been stabbed.
“He managed to free the knife from Wilson, who then put his hands round Mr Robertshaw’s throat and started to choke him, squeezing tightly,” said Miss Pritchard.
“Mr Robertshaw lost the ability to talk and breathe, and thought Wilson was going to kill him until Miss Hale arrived.” When she appeared, Wilson calmly threw the knife on the bed, walked out and waited for the police.
Moments later, it dawned on Mr Robertshaw that he had stab wounds, the court heard. He spent two days in hospital where doctors found the blade had penetrated his chest cavity, causing a collapsed lung. “The wound was close to his spleen, so it could have been a lot worse,” said Miss Pritchard.
When arrested and interviewed by police, Wilson made a full admission. “He said if he had killed him, he would have locked the door, paid his debt and left,” added Miss Pritchard. “He had not thought about anything else after that point.”
Mr Coupland said Wilson wanted to make it clear that Mr Robertshaw, who was in court for the sentencing hearing, “had done nothing wrong” and that he was sorry for the offence, which he couldn’t explain.
The judge told the defendant: “You decided to rob your housemate and friend, who had done you no harm. I accept that the determined attempt to kill him arose on the spur of the moment. Also, you were candid with the police, and I believe you are remorseful.
“But this attack was frightening and painful for Mr Robertshaw, who blames himself when he shouldn’t.”
After the hearing, Det Con Christopher Anthony, on behalf of the police, said: “The length of the sentence reflects the seriousness of the crime.
“I’d like to publicly thank Mr Robertshaw and all the witnesses for their assistance in this investigation. I’d also like to pay tribute to the housing officer whose intervention potentially saved the life of Mr Robertshaw.”
Victim still suffering flashbacks of day he thought he was going to die
Nearly five months on, attack victim Ben Robertshaw is still suffering random flashbacks, reliving the terrifying morning he thought he was going to be killed.
The court heard that he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, for which he is soon to start treatment.
“He keeps asking himself why it happened,” said Dawn Pritchard (prosecuting). “He blames himself for not doing more to resist the assault because he took taekwondo lessons as a child.
“He finds sleeping and relaxing difficult and is constantly on edge. He hasn’t been back to the house and has moved in with his grandparents. He only goes out for essential things and no longer socialises with friends. He has suffered from depression and feels he can’t trust strangers.”