The early summer of 1979 must have been unseasonably cold in England. For one 63 year old landlady resident in the Berkshire town of Reading was led to ask her 29 year old lodger, as they sat together in her living room watching television one evening in late June of that year, to fetch some coal from her shed for the fire.
The lodger duly obliged. Unfortunately, he also returned with something else kept in the shed besides coal with which he went on to do something to his landlady she had not requested and most decidedly would not have wanted. Wielding an axe that he had fetched back along with the coal, the lodger proceeded to set about his landlady’s head with fatal effect.
As he waited for his victim to die, the man, who at the time was on parole from a two-year prison sentence for burglary, adjourned to her kitchen to brew a cup of coffee, which he drank before walking six miles to the nearest police station to turn himself in. Reportedly without remorse, the man successfully pleaded not guilty to murder on the grounds of diminished responsibility. Later that year he received a 15 year prison sentence for manslaughter, subsequently extended by a further ten years for several violent offenses against prison officers he committed while serving his original sentence.
It was while in a high security unit that the axe killer, John Hirst, received from a visitor to it a book that was to change the direction of his life and with it the course of British history.