A 37-year-old Leonard Stanley man who tried to kidnap a terrified 13-year-old girl in Chalford last summer has been jailed today for five and three quarter years.
Robert Hall of Woodlands, Leonard Stanley, claimed he was being told by voices in his head to snatch the girl – but his explanation was rejected by a Gloucester Crown Court judge after he had heard evidence from Hall during a ‘trial of issue’ to determine the extent of his guilt.
The court heard that Hall pounced on the girl and put his hands over her mouth after she ran past him on a footpath by the Thames and Severn Canal in Chalford.
He dragged her into a wooded area nearby but she struggled and screamed and managed to break free and escape his clutches.
Hall admitted attempted abduction of the girl on June 2nd 2020. As well as the five year nine month jail term the judge, Recorder James Waddington QC, added a four year parole extension – meaning that Hall is liable to recall to prison at any time after his release on licence until the end of 2030 if he breaches the terms of his release.
The court wastold that on June 1st last year Hall was spotted acting suspiciously in the area of Three Grove Wood, just outside Chalford.
The following day, June 2nd, he was again seen in the village in his Toyota Yaris car and at 5pm was witnessed chasing ater a 19-year-old woman wearing red shorts.
Prosecutor Charles Thomas said: “The area is quite remote and it was very hot and sunny. At 5pm two women spotted the man, who was distinctive because he was wearing a thick hoodie on the hottest day of the year, and he was seen chasing after a younger girl.
“He was seen walking along a footpath, a route alongside the Thames and Severn Canal, a route used by regularly by runners. When the victim in the case, who was wearing headphones, reached the mill she noticed a man who was loitering near a bin as she ran past him.
“He then jumped out and followed her. She carried on running before she realised he was right behind her when he placed his hands over her mouth.
“He was wearing bright blue latex gloves, the girl recalls.
“A struggle ensued as the girl tried to remove his hands from her mouth – during which time he dragged her to a wooded area.
“She had the presence of mind to scream loudly but he kept telling her to shut up.
“She managed to struggle from his grip and break away and run to the nearest house for refuge. She contacted her friend, who she had spoken to while out running, and raised the alarm.”
The court was told that a local woman had also witnessed the man chasing the young runner ‘at full pelt.’
CCTV footage was examined by police and it showed a silver Toyota Yaris leaving the area.
The court heard that the vehicle was registered to Hall’s partner and when the police went to her address, a man answered the door. He matched the description given by the three witnesses of the offender. It was Hall and he was arrested and interviewed.
Lloyd Jenkins, defending, said: “Kidnap is a very serious offence. Hall has accepted that he assaulted the girl, but I question whether she was ever deprived of her liberty?
“Hall accepts that he was in the area the day before the incident and admits to following the young girl on June 2 but denies chasing the 19-year-old.”
Judge Recorder James Waddington QC interjected: “This was a pre-planned abduction. ”
The court heard that Hall had been receiving reatment for mental health issues last summer and had previously been an in patient of Wotton Lawn Mental Health Hospital in Gloucester but he was deemed fit enough to plead to the charges in September last year.
“Hall was responding to voices in his head,” Mr Jenkins said. “He grabbed the girl and this scared her.”
Hall told the court: “At the time I struggled with my mental health, I was low in mood and I was hearing voices.
“The voices were muffled at first before coming much clearer. They were not friendly voices and asked me to do silly things.
“I think the stress at work triggered the voices. I was not in a good place. I didn’t contact my doctor because I felt I could deal with it myself. I am now on specialist medication and much more stable mentally.
“It is not true that I made these voices up. They were definitely real. They told me to take an overdose on a number of occasions.
“If I disobeyed the voices, they would tell me that I had been stupid.
“I had been in the village on June 1 after a stressful day at work. I went to clear my head, go for a walk and have a cigarette. This was disturbed after an hour when my mother rang me asking for help.
“The following day I felt pretty rubbish as my boss had been on my case for delivering an incorrect stock. I had also had an argument with my partner so I didn’t go home and went to the village instead to clear my head.
“I was acting on impulse when I saw the girl. I followed her on foot. I caught hold of her, just as the voices had requested. That was it. I let her go.
“I was wearing a hoodie as it was my normal attire. I wore latex gloves because of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The court was told that Hall had two previous cautions for assaults on a woman.
The prosecutor suggested to the judge that this was a planned and premeditated attack while Mr Jenkins pointed out: “If this was the case he wouldn’t have worn such distinctive clothing. This was a freak matter.”
Recorder Waddington said: “I am sure Hall planned his attack over a period of days. Whilst I accept his mental health has some bearing and relevance to this, I am certain he didn’t act on the hallucinatory voices to seize the young girl. ”
The 13-year-old victim stated: “I had my headphones on but when I felt somebody behind me I ran faster. The man ran faster as well. I noticed he was wearing blue gloves when he put his hand over my mouth.
“I noticed he was trying to drag me up the hill into the woods. I kept screaming and eventually I managed to escape.”
In sentencing Hall Recorder Waddington said : “This attempted abduction is deeply worrying for what could have happened. I believe you present a high risk of serious harm to the general public.
“In my judgement you have given this court a ridiculous story that flies in the face of the evidence.
“You stated that you were told by the voices in your head to grab the girl and that there was no motive to do anything else to her. You denied trying to get her into the woods to commit an assault. However I believe the voices were your own thoughts and were not hallucinations.
“Your victim was weaker than you and I am sure that had she not escaped you would have gone on to commit a sexual assault. This was a terrifying incident on a young victim. She is now vulnerable and doesn’t want to go out on her own.
“This is a particularly serious offence as it occurred in a remote area and shows how carefully you had thought about what you were going to do.
“You didn’t do all this planning to simply grab the girl. You planned this abduction. However, luckily for the girl, her period of detention was short.
“You lied to me during the trial of issue, but you did spare the victim from giving evidence.”
The judge jailed Hall for five years and nine months and extended the term by four years to a total of nine years and nine months.
The judge also barred Hall from working with children and vulnerable adults in the future.
The investigation to identify and arrest Hall, as well as collating evidence which led to a guilty plea, was led by senior investigating officer Detective Inspector Adam Stacey from Gloucestershire Constabulary.
He said: “This was a horrific ordeal for the victim. The courage she has shown since that day has been remarkable and we’ve been in awe at how brave she has been.
“These types of attacks are extremely rare and in my 23 years in policing I have only seen a very small number of these.
“In this case it was a pre-planned and premeditated attack where this young girl was preyed upon but thankfully managed to escape and run to safety at a nearby house.
“The impact this has on a victim is unimaginable, and it also impacts the family and causes a huge amount of fear within the local community too.
“I would like to thank the victim for the immense strength she has shown and her family who have worked alongside us throughout.
“There was a significant team effort from the moment the crime was reported, with teams from across the Constabulary taking part in a large amount of enquiries in quick-time in order to arrest Hall and bring him to justice.
“I would also like to thank to my colleagues across the Constabulary, including the deputy senior investigating officer Detective Sergeant Jon Youdan and officer in the case Detective Constable Julie Williams, and to all those in the local community who shared our appeals for help and came forward with vital information.”