Rake attacker Stephen Leonard revealed as 1979 child killer

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Lorraine Holt
Image caption,
Lorraine Holt was murdered in 1979 and her father Jim Holt (right) has only one colour photograph of her

A man who nearly decapitated a dementia sufferer in a row over garden tools is a child killer who was released from prison in 2017, the BBC can reveal.

Stephen Chafer was 17 when he sexually assaulted and stabbed to death three-year-old Lorraine Holt in Derby.

He was released in 2002, returned to prison in 2013 for arson - but then released again on licence in 2017.

Now known as Stephen Leonard, the 57-year-old was convicted this month of trying to kill a woman in Peterborough.

The fact Stephen Leonard and Stephen Chafer are the same man has not previously been reported.

But Lorraine's father Jim Holt, who was friends with Chafer, said the decision to release him had "destroyed a family".

"Because all of this has happened it's brought all of [Lorraine's death] back, not just to me, but to the whole of my family," he told BBC News.

"Somebody said to me the other day 'he's an animal'. And I said 'don't disrespect animals'."

Image source, Cambridgeshire Police
Image caption,
Stephen Leonard will be sentenced for attempted murder on 4 January
Image caption,
Jim Holt has kept newspaper cuttings of his daughter's case down the years

Lorraine was out playing in the snow in the back garden of her family home in Sinfin Lane, Derby, on 20 January 1979 - but wandered off.

Chafer, who was related to her through marriage, had been out drinking during the afternoon and came across her sitting in the snow crying while he was walking to their house.

The then teenager gave Lorraine some sweets and carried her to the grounds of the local vicarage, where he put his hand over her mouth and sexually assaulted her before stabbing her 39 times.

He later pleaded guilty to murder and was jailed, before being released 23 years later in 2002.

Image caption,
Jim Holt has a copy of Derbyshire Police's appeal for witnesses at the time of his daughter's murder

More than 10 years later Chafer - by now known as Leonard - removed the fire alarms at his flat, part of a block of nine in Peterborough, and set it alight.

He admitted arson with being reckless whether life would be endangered and was sentenced to 26 months in prison, but was released on licence on 9 August 2017.

Then on 23 June 2018 he went to the home of Faye Mills, a 60-year-old woman with dementia whom he had known for about 15 years, in Peterborough.

It was there that an argument over a garden rake "caused a flick of the switch in his head", prosecutor Charles Falk told Cambridge Crown Court.

He hit her over the head with the tool before grabbing a knife and stabbing her in a "frenzied" attack.

Mr Falk said: "He inflicted multiple stab wounds all over her body and almost decapitated her and then tried to stab her neighbour who intervened, after hearing her screams."

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The extent of her injuries, which included a "slash" across the neck, made it "almost inexplicable" she lived and when police officers arrived they thought she was dead, Cambridge Crown Court heard.

The attack, Mr Falk said, left Ms Mills with "life-changing injuries from which she will never fully recover".

A jury found him guilty of attempted murder and he will be sentenced on 4 January for that offence.

Speaking to the BBC after learning of the new conviction, his first victim's father Mr Holt said he hoped authorities would "lock him up and keep him locked up because if he comes out again he'll destroy another family".

"He won't go away because he gets a buzz off it, that's my personal opinion," he said.

Image caption,
Lorraine Holt's grandmother wrote to the Parole Board to plead with them to keep Chafer in jail

Back in 2000, Mr Holt submitted a petition to then Home Secretary Jack Straw to extend Chafer's time in jail. He spent an extra two years incarcerated.

Mr Holt, who now lives in Nottingham, said: "I knew he was out and knew at the back of my mind he would re-offend.

"Then I hear from the police and he's back inside for arson and I'm like 'so you've had him twice and you've let him go?'.

"And now this has happened to the Mills family."

Asked what he would say to the Parole Board who agreed his release, Mr Holt said: "I'd ask them why did you let him out - on what excuse, when you'd been warned?"

A Parole Board spokesman said it was rare for released offenders to go on to commit serious further offences.

"Whilst this represents an extremely small proportion of cases considered, we do take each case extremely seriously and work with others in the criminal justice system to ensure that lessons are learned to help to prevent further tragedies," he added.

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