Birmingham knife attack victim recalls moment childhood best friend was fatally stabbed

Words by ITV News Midlands Producer Cat Reid video report by ITV News Correspondent Stacey Foster

A man who suffered life-changing injuries during a stabbing spree in Birmingham has told ITV News about the moment his best friend was fatally attacked.

Michael Callaghan spent more than six months in hospital after he was stabbed in the neck while on a night out in Birmingham. His friend, 23-year-old Jacob Billington, died and six other people were injured when Zephaniah McLeod went on a rampage lasting several hours around the city.

Speaking exclusively to ITV News, Michael said that while he understands McLeod was experiencing paranoid schizophrenia at the time, he doesn't believe he should be given a lesser sentence.

He said: "He's admitted that he attempted to murder me. Jacob had the same injuries, so he was attempting to murder Jacob too." He added: "I don’t believe his punishment should be any less because he’s a paranoid schizophrenic.

"The best case scenario is that all the charges add up to a very long sentence.

"That would only be the smallest relief as we won't get Jacob back. In time I'll recover, but I can't get Jacob back."

Jacob Billington

Michael and Jacob, from Liverpool, were visiting friends in Birmingham that weekend. The group were on their way back to a hotel in the early hours of September 6 when they were approached by McLeod. "This man McLeod came up to me and Jacob and asked us if we had a lighter, and we both said, 'no sorry mate'.

"My memory then is that I heard a scream, which must have been Jacob, and then I put my hand to my neck and I could feel the wound.

"I kind of followed Jacob to where he collapsed," said Michael.

Michael fell into the arms of another friend, who was able to stem his bleeding and save his life. However, the knife had severed Michael's carotid artery, jugular vein and vagus nerve.

While in hospital, Michael suffered a stroke and surgeons had to perform a craniectomy - an operation to remove part of the skull. He was then put in an induced coma for three weeks.

Michael describes the moment the attacker approached him and Jacob

He spent a total of 187 days in hospital, and the 24-year-old is now continuing with his rehabilitation at home.

His left arm is paralysed, he struggles to talk because of the damage to his vocal chords and he is awaiting an operation to replace the missing part of his skull. Michael said: "Obviously I’ve had a lot of injuries, but in time my skull will be fixed, my arm will come back and my voice will be fixed. I’ll recover, but we can’t get Jacob back.” Michael and Jacob had been friends since childhood.

Both talented musicians, they bonded over music and formed a band called The Vedetts with two of their other friends.

Zephaniah McLeod

Michael said: "That’s been the worst part to be honest, because we did everything together.

"All through school and living together in Sheffield, being in our band together - everything together.

"Missing his funeral was unthinkable to be honest." Last week, McLeod pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, four counts of attempted murder and three counts of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. His attack started at 12.30am on September 6 on Constitution Hill, when he stabbed a 33-year-old man in the neck.

He then stabbed a 25-year-old woman in the shoulder on Livery Street, and critically injured a 29-year-old man after knifing him in the chest on Barwick Street. McLeod then dumped his knife in a drain, got a taxi home to Selly Oak and re-armed himself, before heading back out about an hour later.

It was then that he approached Jacob and Michael on Irving Street. After attacking them, McLeod stabbed two more men in their 20s, and a 23-year-old woman.

Michael says his tight bond with Jacob stretches back to their school days

Detective Chief Inspector Jim Munro, from West Midlands Police, said the force did not automatically link the attacks that evening. He said: "It’s not unusual for us to receive several reports of assaults, some involving weapons, on a busy weekend evening, so the incidents were not automatically linked.

"Our CCTV operators immediately began exploring footage around the scenes that had been reported to us and later that day we identified a potential suspect linked to each attack, so we began tracking his movements."

He added: "McLeod has never given an explanation for his actions that night which leaves no closure for his victims or their families and friends, although I am pleased that the admission of his crimes has spared those involved the ordeal of a trial."

McLeod will be sentenced, pending psychiatric reports, at the end of September.