The victims of Philip Spence and their families will be horrified to learn that a year before the brutal attack for which he now faces jail he was tried in the very same court after carrying out a violent assault on a heavily pregnant woman – and that he walked free after claiming he had acted in self-defence.
A British law designed to ensure a fair trial for defendants meant that the jurors in the current case had no idea that last April Spence was cleared of another charge of attempted murder after a week-long trial at the Old Bailey.
On that occasion, his alleged victim was a 28-year-old fellow drug addict who was six months pregnant.
The court was told that Spence had battered Tracey Hughes with a chair leg as she lay in a bath, before stabbing her with a knife and pouring boiling water over her.
Such was the ferocity of Spence’s assault that when the knife was recovered by police from a flowerbed the blade was found to have been bent by almost 90 degrees.
Ms Hughes’ injuries included a collapsed lung, stab wounds to her head and back, extensive bruising and a broken wrist and finger. Her unborn child was unharmed and was born three months later.
As in the Cumberland case, Spence’s violent assault had been preceded by a long drug-taking session. Spence, another man and Ms Hughes had been smoking crack cocaine together before the assault.
Spence, who was arrested four days later, told police Ms Hughes had tried to rob him and that he had acted in self-defence. In court, he denied attempted murder and wounding with intent. The jury accepted his claim of self defence – and freed him to attack again.
For the UK charity Victim Support, the case told a tragically familiar story.
"Victims tell us time and time again that what is most important to them is that criminals do not go on to reoffend as they don't want others to fall victim to the same crime," assistant chief executive Adam Pemberton told The National.
Both the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service declined to comment on Spence’s earlier case.
The attack on the Emirati sisters had been “a truly horrific crime which displayed a shocking level of violence”, said Baljit Ubhey, chief crown prosecutor for London.
“This family were enjoying a holiday in our city when they were brutally and viciously attacked whilst they lay sleeping in their beds. Philip Spence used a hammer to try to kill the women before stealing their belongings.
“Not only were the three sisters severely injured in the attack, their children were in the room at the time and witnessed the horror of the violence.
“I would like to praise the immense courage of the victims who gave evidence in court whilst still undergoing medical treatment for their injuries and thank them for their help in bringing Spence to justice.
“Spence refused to take responsibility for his actions and despite pleading guilty to causing grievous bodily harm we did not accept that this reflected the criminality of his actions, which showed a clear intent to kill. The jury agreed with this and have convicted Spence of attempted murder.
“Those who live and work in the capital, and those who visit, should be able to enjoy the city without fear of violence and the CPS is committed to working with police partners to tackle and prosecute violent crime.”