Pensioner who used to serve in Royal Navy tightened cord around worker's neck during violent escape attempts at Portsmouth hospital

A FORMER sailor who was sectioned amid troubles in his life engineered opportunities to escape hospital by luring unsuspecting staff and attacking them – leaving one fearing she was ‘going to die’ after a cord was tightened around her neck.

Saturday, 21st August 2021, 12:23 pm

John Sherwood, 75, was taken to St James’ Hospital in Milton after police were forced to evict him from a pub on February 11, 2019, before growing concerned after he said he ‘wanted to end his own life’.

Portsmouth Crown Court heard Sherwood, of Warwick Crescent, Southsea, was sectioned at the hospital for nine days where he made various attempts to escape – and was even successful on one occasion before being returned.

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The St James' Hospital site Picture: Paul Jacobs

On February 20, 2019, the defendant attempted his first quest to break free from the unit after a healthcare support worker spotted him coming out of a bathroom in a supposedly secure room that was being renovated.

During an exchange, quick-thinking Sherwood, who served in the Royal Navy, asked for the female worker to make him a hot drink before she went to the kitchen.

‘(Sherwood) then walked in behind her and aimed a punch at her head which avoided her and landed on her shoulder,’ prosecutor Beverley Cherrill said.

‘He started demanding the keys so he could leave the building. His intention was to get out of his incarceration. She handed over the keys as she was frightened.

‘He continued to assault her and she put her hand up and he took her hand and squeezed it so hard she thought it was broken.

‘He was still aiming punches at her but it seems she avoided them.’

Despite being threatened by Sherwood not to call for help the worker finally was able to sound the alarm before staff intervened.

The victim said Sherwood, who remained at the hospital after the incident, showed ‘no remorse’ after the attack.

Attempts were made to ‘shore up’ the renovated room after the incident but it was noted a lock had been subsequently ‘tampered with’.

Two days after Sherwood’s first ambush to break-free, he embarked on his next crusade to ‘make good his escape’ after being seen in the lounge with a piece of wood from the renovation.

Another female worker checked in on him before he deployed the same tactic as before and asked if she could make him a hot drink.

‘He then knocked her to the ground and put a cord around her neck, not dissimilar to a noose, which could be tightened,’ Ms Cherrill said.

‘(The victim) put her fingers underneath to protect her windpipe.’

During the struggle, as the worker was attempting to sound the alarm, Sherwood quickly ‘stood on her fingers’ to prevent her calling for help.

Eventually the victim was able to activate the alarm with her teeth.

The member of staff said Sherwood was ‘calm’ with ‘no intention’ of what was to happen before he became ‘aggressive very quickly’.

Ms Cherrill added: ‘The victim thought she was going to die. Now she can’t have anything around her neck, even a scarf. She can’t go back in the room where it happened.’

The court heard how Sherwood’s partner was ill at the time of the attacks and had now died.

The depressed defendant was described as ‘lonely’ and someone who would ‘drink heavily’.

Judge Richard Shepherd said: ‘Those who work in mental health need to be protected – they have a thankless task.

‘They need to know the courts will protect them and stand up for them.’

The judge said he would have imposed a six-month jail term but felt a community order would ‘best serve the community and best serve Mr Sherwood’, who had avoided any further trouble since the offences.

Sherwood, who admitted two counts of assaulting an emergency worker, was given a three-year community order with 100 hours of unpaid work and told to complete 30 rehabilitation days.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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