Former soldier admits Freedom Centre attack

The Freedom Centre in Barnstaple. Picture: Sarah Howells

The Freedom Centre in Barnstaple. Picture: Sarah Howells - Credit: Archant

A former soldier has admitted attacking and blackmailing a resident in a homeless hostel in Barnstaple.

Njabulo Hleza pleaded guilty to assault occasioning actual bodily harm and demanding money with menaces of what was scheduled to be the first day of his trial at Exeter Crown Court.

Hleza, aged 40, of Boutport Street, Barnstaple, will be sentenced next month after his defence team obtain evidence about the psychological effects of his service with the army in Afghanistan.

He is said the suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and to have experienced problems of alcoholism and homelessness since he left the forced six years ago.

Hleza admitted blackmail and actual bodily harm. A second man, Wayne Harford, aged 54, of Signal Terrace, Barnstaple, had admitted the same charge at another hearing.

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Vincent Connolly, aged 41, of Boutport Street, was cleared of both charges after the prosecution offered no evidence.

James Hassell, prosecuting, said Connolly's involvement was minimal and the case against him is not being pursued in the light of the other pleas.

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All the offences arose from an incident in which Hleza and Harford went into the Freedom Centre in Barnstaple on June 23, 2019 and attacked a resident.

Brian Fitzherbert, for Hleza, said:"He left the army in 2013 after serving three tours of Afghanistan. He has PTSD and has struggled with homelessness and alcoholism."

Judge Peter Johnson adjourned sentence until November 20. He remanded Harford in custody and released Hleza on bail.

He told him:"I am adjourning this case to get as much information as can be obtained about your service in the army. I make no promises whatsoever. These are serious matters which ordinarily attract immediate custody."

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