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Tuesday, 5 March, 2002, 13:39 GMT
Axeman gets four life sentences
BBC court graphic
A man has been given four life sentences for repeatedly slashing his former lover with an axe and possessing an arsenal of loaded weapons.

John Sweeney, described by police as one of the most dangerous men in the UK, kept the guns while on the run from police after he attempted to murder Delia Balmer.

Detectives now want to interview Sweeney over the unsolved murders of two women and the disappearance of two others.

On Tuesday, Sweeney showed no emotion as he was led from the dock at the Old Bailey.

John Sweeney
John Sweeney tried to kill his girlfriend

The 45-year-old, originally from Kirkdale, Liverpool, had been convicted of attempted murder and possessing two sawn off shotguns and a pistol, at two earlier hearings.

The Recorder of London, Judge Michael Hyam said Sweeney was an unstable character and likely to commit more "offences... injurious to others, especially women with whom you form an association".

During his relationship with Miss Balmer, Sweeney allegedly told her that he had killed a previous girlfriend called Melissa in Amsterdam, it was revealed in legal arguments before his trial.

Melissa Halstead's headless and limbless torso was found in an Amsterdam canal in 1992.

Police in London also want to question Sweeney over the murder of 31-year-old prostitute Paula Fields who died in February last year.

Missing women

Her headless and limbless body was found in Regents Canal, London, in February last year.

Sweeney has convictions for other attacks on former girlfriends and is suspected of avenging himself on women when they rejected him.

Two of his ex-girlfriends from the late 90s have disappeared, although there is no evidence they have been harmed and no-one has reported them missing.

Police are trying to trace Brazilian Leani and Columbian Maria through their consulates, but only have the women's first names.

Police appeal

Detective Chief Inspector Norman McKinlay, in charge of the case, has appealed for them or anyone who knows them to come forward.

Dutch police are now reinvestigating the death of former US model Miss Halstead.

The daughter of a dentist, she had been attacked by Sweeney several times during their relationship.

He was once jailed in Austria after hitting her with a hammer.

New inquest

An inquest into Ms Fields' death is due to be held on 18 March at Poplar.

She had been Sweeney's girlfriend and he will be invited to attend to give evidence.

After brutally attacking Miss Balmer in 1994, Sweeney went on the run.

He was not arrested until March last year while working on a building site in London.

Sweeney, a carpenter, of Kentish Town, north London, had denied attempted murder, false imprisonment and actual bodily harm to Miss Balmer.

He was convicted of all charges. He was also convicted at a second trial of three charges of possession of firearms with intent to endanger life, which he had denied.


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See also:

25 Feb 02 | England
Axeman convicted of gun offences
13 Feb 02 | England
Fugitive 'planned police killings'
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