A pensioner has been jailed for over four years after nearly killing a farmer because he accidentally ran over a cat.
In a scene likened to a horror movie, Stephen Harpin, 71, stabbed Wiggington farmer Trevor Coates in the arm and chest in an unprovoked attack that could so easily have proved fatal, York Crown Court heard.
The attack was so ferocious it almost severed his arm.
The attack stemmed from an accident a day or so earlier in which Mr Coates had apparently run over a cat in his tractor by accident, which sent Harpin into a rage.
Mr Coates, 66, was in his tractor, baling hay and cutting grass in his 20-acre field in Walmer Carr, when he noticed Harpin standing at the entrance, said prosecutor Dan Cordey. The pensioner’s garden backed onto the field.
Harpin, a manic depressive, was “brooding” because of the incident with the cat.
“He said (Mr Coates) was a cat murderer,” said Mr Cordey.
“It appears Mr Coates may have run over a cat accidentally and it was found by this defendant.”
Mr Coates – who did not know Harpin – accepted he may have struck the cat with his tractor “and indeed apologised at a later date to the lady who whose cat it was”, added Mr Cordey.
Harpin later went to the cat owner’s home, a woman who was named in court, and told her that her pet had been struck by a tractor. He said he and his wife had taken it to a local vet.
Harpin told the woman he wanted Mr Coates to “feel loss” and that he owed her an apology. He later sent text messages to a friend telling him that the cat had died after being struck by a tractor and that “the cat murderer is still out in the field”.
Blade covered in blood
Matters came to a head at about 6.30am on Sunday 18 July last year, when Mr Coates was baling hay and cutting grass close to the perimeter of the neighbouring gardens.
Harpin, who had been doing some gardening and trimming his hedge, walked up to Mr Coates who had got out of his tractor cab.
“Mr Coates asked him to leave the field as he was trespassing, but the defendant did not,” said Mr Cordey.
Harpin silently walked towards the farmer, who was so concerned he got his phone out to take a photo of him.
“The next thing he was aware of was the defendant pulling out what looked like a blade covered in blood from around the left arm of Mr Coates, who looked down and saw the blood squirting out of his forearm.”
The blow severed a major artery.
Mr Coates climbed back into his cab and wrapped an old cardigan around the blood-soaked wound, but then Harpin came at him again.
Mr Coates backed away but Harpin, who was also carrying a pair of shears, thrust the five-inch, serrated kitchen knife into his chest.
“Mr Coates was panicking as he could not stop the bleeding,” said Mr Cordey.
“He made his way across the field to seek help.”
Mr Coates banged on the door of a nearby house, at which point another neighbour, 50-year-old Gary Watkinson, came to his aid.
He said that Mr Coates was “bleeding and in shock”, and that “blood was squirting and pumping out” of his wound.
Mr Watkinson used the sleeve of the cardigan as a tourniquet which he wrapped around Mr Coates’s arm to stem the blood flow. He rang 999 and an ambulance arrived in minutes.
‘Knifed the cat murderer’
Mr Watkinson and other neighbours, including an off-duty police officer, tried to keep Mr Coates awake as he “drifted in and out of consciousness”.
Mr Coates was taken to Leeds General Infirmary at about 7.20am, when Harpin sent another message to his friend saying he had “knifed the cat murderer which probably is…one of the better things I have done in my life”.
When a police officer arrived at Harpin’s home, he was standing by his conservatory.
The officer found the black-handled knife next to the hedge. Harpin was said to be “calm throughout” and said: “I’m not going to deny it.” He was duly arrested.
Mr Coates was taken straight to the major trauma ward in Leeds where he had emergency surgery lasting nearly four hours to repair his severed artery and remove bone fragments from his arm.
The knife had gone straight through his arm, entering at the front of his elbow and exiting through the back of his forearm. He also suffered a fractured rib from being stabbed in the chest.
During interview in police custody, Harpin said he saw a “rush of blood which was alarming” after stabbing the farmer.
He said he and his wife had become “close to the cat as it was a frequent visitor to their garden and it was horrible to see the cat injured”.
“He said he had taken the knife from a block in the kitchen,” added Mr Cordey.
“He had effectively pre-armed himself before going out (to confront Mr Coates).” Harpin, of Walmer Carr, was charged with wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. He admitted the offence and appeared for sentence via video link today (Friday, 1 April).
‘I may never recover’
Mr Coates said the “unprovoked, shocking, sudden” attack “by a male who I don’t know” had had a “massive” impact on his life and livelihood and affected his farming business as he fell behind with his work and suffered financial problems that were so acute he had to sell one of his properties.
The farmer, who was left with a permanent scar on his arm, said he “almost bled to death” and that he might have died had it not been for Mr Watkinson.
His injuries had left him “disfigured” and he had had to rely on others to run the farm for a time and had to move in with his sister for over two months because he couldn’t look after himself.
“Before the attack I was happy with my life, looking after my animals,” he added.
“But since the attack I’ve suffered nightmares and I’m extremely anxious about going out in public.”
He had since been prescribed anti-depressants and received counselling but was still in physical pain.
“I struggle to look after the farm animals and feel I may never fully recover,” he said.
Huge credit card debts
Graham Parkin, mitigating, said Harpin was “extremely” remorseful for his actions and that he had initially merely wanted to confront Mr Coates and tell him he had been “brooding throughout the night” because of what happened to the cat.
He said that Harpin, who had his 71st birthday in prison yesterday while on remand, had financial and marital problems at the time and was suffering from depression after racking up huge debts on credit cards.
Harpin had suffered from a “chronic depressive disorder” for years, had suicidal thoughts and was selling his own books, some of them first editions, to meet the credit-card payments.
Judge Sean Morris jailed Harpin for four years and six months and gave him with a lifetime restraining order which bans the pensioner contacting or approaching Mr Coates.