Busker Thomas O’Halloran was stabbed to death by psychopath Lee Byer – released from jail five days before

An 87-year-old grandfather busking on his mobility scooter to raise money for Ukraine was stabbed to death by a psychotic serial criminal five days after he was let out of prison, a court heard.

Lee Byer, 45, stabbed Thomas O’Halloran in the chest and neck with a bread knife in a ‘shocking attack’ in Greenford, west London on 16 August 2022.

Former maintenance man Mr O’Halloran, originally from Co Clare in Ireland, travelled some 75 yards on his scooter, to flag down a member of the public for help, following the attack.

Paramedics were called but Mr O’Halloran he bled to death at the side of the road.

Mr O’Halloran was playing his accordion to raise money for Ukraine with a Ukrainian flag on the basket of his mobility scooter.

The ‘gentle and loving’ grandfather had always busked to raise money for humanitarian causes and was a ‘much loved’ figure in the community.

Byer was arrested at his mother’s home on Allenby Road, Southall on 18 August 2022.

He had an appalling criminal record for 30 offences, including robbery and firearms, dating back to 1992 when he was 13.

Described as a ‘Fagin-like’ character Byer had recruited younger members into his gang when they robbed jewellers across London in a £250,000 crime spree.

He admitted organising the armed robberies and was jailed for 12 years at Kingston Crown Court in 2011.

He had been recalled to HMP Wormwood Scrubs for breaching his licence but he was let out again on 11 August 2022.

Byer stabbed Mr O’Halloran twice to the heart and three times to the neck leaving blood stains on the pavement.

He admitted manslaughter on the basis of diminished responsibility and possession of an offensive weapon as he was suffering from schizophrenia when he killed Mr O’Holloran.

Judge Mark Lucraft, KC, the Recorder of London, will sentence Byer this afternoon.

In a victim impact statement, Mr O’Holloran’s grandson Dennis Lintern, who lived with his mother and grandad said: ’Our family dynamic was always one where Grandad was seen as head of the household.

‘Grandad was a gentle, loving man who spent his whole life working and helping everyone he could.

‘He was taken in a horrendous act of cowardice by the defendant who has not only taken my grandfather’s life but devastated and took something from everyone who knew him.

‘He was minding his own business doing what he loved- playing the accordion to make people smile and enjoy his music which he had done for many years.

‘He was a character, he would always stand up for others if he saw something that was wrong.

‘He loved music, and when he wasn’t busking he would write music or practice the accordion at home.

‘He was keen to get involved and made lots of friends around the community.’

Lee Byer hiding knife in drain

Prosecutor Gareth Patterson, KC, said: ‘Mr O’Halloran was travelling home on his mobility scooter in West London.

‘He made his way along a road parallel to the A40 in Greenford.

‘His path took him past this defendant, who was walking the streets in possession of a large knife.

‘Mr O’Halloran, for his part, was unarmed and of course, at the age of 87, in no way posed any kind of threat to anyone.

‘He was in a mobility scooter because of his diabetes and although he could walk he could not walk that easily.

‘Yet he was attacked and stabbed repeatedly by the defendant.

‘Two of the stabs injuries were to his heart. Three of them were to his neck which was stabbed on both sides and a branch of his jugular vein was cut. He was also stabbed to his back.

‘A passer-by telephoned for help and the police and paramedics rushed to the scene, but despite their best efforts Mr O’Halloran bled to death at the side of the road.

‘This was a truly shocking attack.

‘The CCTV shows him approaching Mr O’Halloran and then running away just after the attack.

‘On any view this was a savage knife attack.

‘The defendant was staying in with his mother. He had been released from prison on 11 August, having served in full a lengthy sentence in respect of which he had previously been recalled to prison.

‘In the days following his release his mother and brother described odd behaviour but the full nature and degree of his mental illness had not been diagnosed.’

The attack occurred under a railway bridge near Runnymede Gardens and Welland Gardens around 4pm.

Mr O’Halloran had been busking near Tesco on the A40.

Byer, who was wearing a Covid mask before the attack, attacked the victim for
a minute and a half.

A young man found Mr O’Halloran and he told him he had been stabbed before slumping over on his mobility scooter.

Despite emergency open heart surgery on the roadside Mr O’Halloran was pronounced dead at the scene.

The collection tin for Ukraine and Mr O’Halloran’s wallet was found untouched in the scooter.

Byer was seen on CCTV running away wearing shorts and a baseball cap.

He snapped the knife in half, putting the yellow and white handle down a drain before running off with the blade.

Bespectacled Byer appeared in court wearing a green Gillet.

Five members of Mr O’Halloran’s family attended court today and wept as CCTV of Mr O’Halloran was shown.

Other members of the family watched on video links from Ireland, England and Scotland.

Mr O’Halloran moved to the UK when he was 18.

Byer was due to stand trial last year but it was thought he was too unwell for the trial to go ahead.

The trial had been rescheduled to begin last month but he admitted manslaughter on the basis of diminished responsibility and possession of an offensive weapon.

He denied murder and his pleas were accepted by the prosecution.

After the attack Byer put on gardening gloves which had been issued to him at HMP Wormwood Scrubs.

A prison officer said he would often wear the gloves – but he did not know why.

Byer was identified after prison officers who previously dealt with him saw his image in CCTV stills in the media.

On his arrest he told police: ‘I was in prison, it’s impossible what you’re talking about.’

Byer has convictions in 1998 for robbery and was sentenced to four years in a young offenders institution.

In 2011 he was convicted for a robbery of a jewellers using hammers to smash cabinets.

In 2018 he was convicted of harassment, battery and breach of a non-molestation order which was imposed in 2017 and a restraining order was imposed.

In October 2020 he was convicted for breaching the restraining order and given a 12 week sentence causing him to be recalled to prison on his robbery sentence.

At the time of the killing he was on bail for a matter which was later discontinued.

Ahead of his first trial which did not go ahead because of his mental health, Byer had instructed his defence barrister to say that Mr O’Halloran did not exist.

Byer claimed he heard voices and repeatedly talked about meeting ‘contestants’ to fight in a ‘Hunger Games’ scenario and hearing voices ordering him to kill.

He said his memory had been erased or wiped and that people had ‘logged onto his head’.

Byer had been ‘guarded and reluctant’ to speak about his symptoms in prison and was not prescribed medication when he was released.

His mother said he had acted strangely shortly before the attack, complaining about the smell of furniture polish and randomly shouting ‘fire, fire’.

Dr Jonathan Hafferty, consultant forensic psychologist at Broadmoor Hospital where Byer now resides, told the court he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the killing.

He said he will probably need lifelong anti-psychotic treatment.

Defence barrister Anand Beharraylal, KC, said Byer is now coming to terms with the fact Mr O’Halloran actually existed, had died and that he was responsible.

‘Were it not for his mental illness this offence would not have occurred,’ he said.

The judge detained Byer in psychiatric hospital indefinitely under Section 37 of the Mental Health Act.

He also passed a Section 41 restriction meaning Byer can only be released with the permission of the Justice Secretary.

Judge Lucraft said: ‘Thomas was clearly a much loved man and the head of an extended family.

‘One can only imagine the impact of the violence towards this gentle man and all those who knew him.

‘No words can cover the grief they feel for this senseless killing.

‘It was clearly a savage attack.

‘I know the family may find the decision I have made difficult to understand, but if I can give them any assurance this case has been considered by two of the country’s leading forensic psychiatrists.’

The judge said it is too early to say how well Mr Byer will respond to treatment and he may have posed a risk to others if sent to prison.

He told Byer: ’There is a possibility you will be in hospital for the rest of your life. You will certainly need long-term and life-long treatment.’

Byer will remain at Broadmoor Hospital.

Concerns were first raised about Byer’s mental health in prison in autumn 2020 when he was hearing voices and it was believed he may have paranoid schizophrenia.

He was given antipsychotic medication but this was stopped in early 2021.

In February 2022 he had an altercation with another prisoner and ‘enduring mental illness’ was noted but he was not returned to prison.

In the notes in the months leading up to his release from prison there were no entries relating to mental health.