Burnley Crown Court heard how stressed and emotional John Johnston attacked Joseph Loseley after turning up at his home early the next day. Johnston, already upset, was said to have been even more distressed after the victim - his lifelong friend - had taken pictures of the coffin at the funeral of the defendant’s former girlfriend of 13 years.
He struck the victim twice and then rang his sister, telling her he had “killed Joseph”. A friend who went round to the victim’s home was let in by Johnston and found the victim lying on the floor, covered in blood, He was taken to hospital, where he was in intensive care for four days. The victim had suffered a smashed jaw, two gashes to his head and other injuries.
Johnston, an alcoholic for 10 years or more and said to have been drinking 300 units of alcohol a week before the assault, told police: “I’m going to tell the truth. I did it. I hit Joseph twice on the head with a hammer to teach him a lesson.” A claw hammer was next to him on the sofa. He made no comment when questioned.
Johnston, of Limefield Avenue, Brierfield, admitted wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm, last August.
Mr David Macro (prosecuting) said the defendant and victim had grown up together in Belfast. The two men exchanged pleasantries at the funeral but the victim was said to have refused to shake Johnston’s hand at the church service.
After the cremation, there was a gathering at the Liberal Club in Brierfield. The victim had no recollection of events there because of his injuries.
Mr Macro said the defendant, who was noted to be obviously distressed at the funeral, later rang his sister wanting to talk. He said he had been in Burnley town centre after the wake with the victim with others. Johnston had asked the victim to go back to his house, but he refused, so Mr Loseley had been dropped off at his home in a taxi.
The next morning, the defendant’s sister got a call from him, saying he had killed Joseph with a hammer and had tried to strangle him. The victim was to tell police he had moved house after the incident, didn’t want to see the defendant and had been left in pain.
Mr Mark Stuart, for Johnston, said he knew custody was inevitable. It was very fortunate the injuries were not worse than they were.
The defendant and victim had been inseparable as drinkers. Johnston, who had a enlarged liver because of his drinking, had been taking 300 units of alcohol a week in 2009/2010 when his former girlfriend was suffering from cancer. He was at a very low ebb and in a highly vulnerable state at the time of the offence.
Mr Stuart said the victim had behaved badly at the funeral. He took some photos, the defendant had been distressed, it led to a row and the defendant went round in the early hours of the morning with the hammer.
The defendant’s and the victim’s relationship was over. The barrister said: “It’s probably never going to repair itself and that’s to the defendant’s great loss and shame.”
Mr Stuart added the offence had been a wake-up call to Johnston. He had not stopped drinking, but he had significantly reduced his alcohol intake. He hoped to marry his partner on his release.
Judge Simon Newell told Johnston :”What you did was not only highly dangerous, it was nearly fatal . You thought you had killed him. You rang your sister and said you thought you had killed him.”