Exeter triple killer found not guilty of murder on grounds of insanity

Alexander Lewis-Ranwell.

Alexander Lewis-Ranwell. - Credit: Police

A mentally ill man who killed three pensioners within hours of being released by police has been sent to a secure psychiatric hospital.

A CCTV still of Alexander Lewis-Ranwell visiting a nearby McColls.

A CCTV still of Alexander Lewis-Ranwell visiting a nearby McColls. - Credit: Contributed

Alexander Lewis-Ranwell was found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity by a jury at Exeter Crown Court and made subject of an indefinite hospital order by Judge Mrs Justice May.

Former public schoolboy Lewis-Ranwell battered 80-year-old Anthony Payne to death with a hammer and went on to kill 84-year-old twin brothers Dick and Roger Carter with a spade.

He was in the grip of paranoid schizophrenia and was suffering from a delusion that the three men were part of a paedophile ring and he was a hero who was rescuing children from cellars at their homes in Exeter.

He went on a 'whirlwind of destruction' after being arrested twice in the space of three days in North Devon and freed on each occasion by police.

CCTV footage of Alexander Lewis-Ranwell in Exeter City Centre.

CCTV footage of Alexander Lewis-Ranwell in Exeter City Centre. - Credit: Contributed

You may also want to watch:

A doctor had recommended that he be checked by a specialist psychiatric nurse before he was freed but this did not happen and Lewis-Ranwell walked out of Barnstaple police station at 9.30am on February 10 this year.

He went straight to Exeter by taxi and rail replacement bus and within minutes of arriving in the city he carried out the first killing of Mr Payne less than 500 metres from the station in Bonhay Road.

Most Read

He wandered around for another two and a half hours before killing the Carter twins in their home in Cowick Lane. One of the twins prevented him getting in the front but he went round the back, climbed a wall, and armed himself with a spade before going inside and using it to beat them to death.

Two psychiatrists gave evidence that he was in the grip of extreme delusions in which he saw himself as 'a hero on a quest' to rescue women or children he believed were being held in cellars or underground passages at the two houses.

Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Alexander Lewis-Ranwell (left) listening to barrister Richa

Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Alexander Lewis-Ranwell (left) listening to barrister Richard Smith QC at Exeter Crown Court, as he has gone on trial with an insanity plea after killing three pensioners in the city. Picture: Elizabeth Cook/PA Wire - Credit: PA

High profile child abuse cases including that of Sir Jimmy Savile and Fred and Rose West, had fuelled his disordered mind to the extent that he believed he was fighting against a massive paedophile conspiracy.

The prosecution said he was suffering from delusions but still knew the killings were wrong. They pointed to the fact that he killed the victims first, and searched for the non existent hidden tunnels later.

They also pointed out that he left Mr Payne's house by the back door, apparently to avoid attention, and ran past the home of the Carter twins when he passed it several hours after the killings.

Lewis-Ranwell, aged 28, of Croyde, and formerly of Broadwoodkelly, near Okehampton, denied three murders by a plea of insanity. He admitted carrying out the killings.

The issue which the jury had to decide was whether Lewis-Ranwell was so mentally ill that he had no idea that what he was doing was illegal, in which case he would be not guilty by reason of insanity; or if he had some awareness of wrongdoing, in which case he would be guilty of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.

He has been staying at Langdon Hospital, Dawlish, during the trial but will now be transferred back to Broadmoor top security hospital.

The jury called for improvements in mental health provision in a note which accompanied their verdict and the Judge echoed their feelings by describing the case as disturbing.

The jury note said: "We, the jury, are concerned at the state of psychiatric health provision in the county of Devon. Can we be assured that the failings in care offered to Alexander Lewis-Ranwell will be appropriately addressed following the trial."

The judge said: "Thank you for your note. This has been a disturbing case to hear. Three dead and two badly injured at the hands of somebody you have found on strong psychiatric evidence was in the grip of a grossly florid psychosis.

"He had no criminal responsibility for his actions. The result is the same. He will be cared for in hospital with a restriction order, which means he will not be allowed into the community, even in a step by step way, until the agencies are absolutely content it is safe for him to be released."

'Whirlwind of destruction'

Lewis-Ranwell is a former pupil of West Buckland School in North Devon who had played polo and worked at ski resorts before being overwhelmed by the onset of severe paranoid schizophrenia.

He had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act in 2016 and 2017 but by February this year he was living in a caravan in North Devon and his condition deteriorated because he stopped taking prescribed medication and was using drugs including cannabis.

The bizarre behaviour which led up to the killings began three days earlier when he burgled a farm at Combe Martin, North Devon, where he was seen acting strangely and releasing animals from their pens.

Police were called to the Castle Inn at Combe Martin that night because he refused to leave but they did not arrest him until he went to a second farm near Ilfracombe the next morning, where he let a pony out of its stall and was seen talking to it in the yard.

He was arrested on the morning of Friday February 8 and held until 3am on Saturday February 9, when he was taken to the Freedom Centre in Barnstaple by police.

He left there at about 6.00am and walked to Goodleigh, near Barnstaple, where he accused 82-year-old farmer John Ellis of being a paedophile and attacked him with a four-foot long lumber saw and a stick.

Mr Ellis fought him off and Lewis-Ranwell was arrested for a second time, arriving in Barnstaple custody at around 10am.

He was seen by a duty police doctor supplied by the security company G4S, who said he wasn't suicidal or psychotic and didn't need a Mental Health Act assessment.

He did recommend he see a psychiatrically trained nurse, but none were available to see him before he was released at 9.30am on the Sunday, shortly before the 24 hour deadline for police to hold him expired.

He carried out the first killing three hours later.

The police have defended their decision to release him, saying they made contact with doctors five times while he was in custody and saying the final assessment by an approved medical practitioner (AMP) did not happen because it was a Sunday.

The case has thrown a spotlight on mental health provision. The Liaison and Diversion Service, run by the Devon Partnership Trust, provided a nurse who did not travel to Barnstaple but did interview Lewis-Ranwell over the phone on Saturday evening, after his arrest for the attack on Mr Ellis.

She recommended a medical assessment but the only one carried out was by the police doctor and not a by an AMP. The AMP service is run by Devon County Council.

A police superintendent had raised doubts about whether he should be released but he could not be held without him being charged by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter