Alcoholic who admitted knifing popular West Hampstead barmaid to death will spend just four years in jail

Natalia Czekaj died after being stabbed more than 20 times by James Richardson

Natalia Czekaj died after being stabbed more than 20 times by James Richardson - Credit: Archant

A man who almost decapitated a popular West Hampstead barmaid in a brutal attack with a kitchen knife will serve just four years in jail.

James Richardson, who almost beheaded his girlfriend Natalia Czekaj, will spend just four years in j

James Richardson, who almost beheaded his girlfriend Natalia Czekaj, will spend just four years in jail - Credit: Archant

James Richardson, 35, was given the lenient sentence at the Old Bailey today after his defence argued his alcoholism meant he had diminished responsibility for the “frenzied” killing.

The court had heard how Richardson knifed girlfriend Natalia Czekaj more than 20 times in the neck, back and chest after a drinking session at their home in Edgware.

Miss Czekaj, 34, who came to London from her native Poland 10 years ago, was a barmaid at The Alliance pub in Mill Lane and described as “kind, caring and popular”.

She had been the girlfriend of Richardson, of Berridge Green, Edgware, for four years and had lived with him for three.

But the Old Bailey today heard how her suggestion they end their relationship left him “jealous and possessive”.

The subsequent attack, on the night of January 6, was described as one of “extreme and sustained violence”.

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It was so severe, Richardson almost severed her head, causing injuries consistent “with a sawing motion with a serrated bread knife”.

Not thought to be a pre-planned attack, he made no attempt to cover up his crime or hide the body, the court was told.

He instead called the police to confess what he’d done, with officers arriving to his home to see an intoxicated Richardson through a window, standing over the body of Miss Czekaj. When he answered the door, he was said by officers to be sobbing and with hands covered in blood.

While incoherent at the scene of the crime, the court heard how he later told officers at the police station he had “done something bad”, making a slicing motion with his hand across his neck.

But Miss Czekaj’s killer never faced a trial for murder.

His defence successfully argued his alcoholism was so severe his responsibility for his actions was impaired.

The court had heard how he was more than four times over the drink driving limit at the time of the attack.

The prosecution agreed not to pursue a murder charge after a medical report stated he suffered alcohol dependency syndrome - a recognised medical condition that was said by two doctors to have “substantially” and “grossly” impaired his responsibility.

Richardson, who says he has no memory of the attack and insisted he loved Miss Czekaj, instead pleaded guilty to manslaughter in June.

After the defence and prosecution argued over his degree of culpability, Judge John Bevan QC today sentenced him to six years in prison, of which he will serve just four. On his release, he will remain on licence for a further five years.

Describing it as a “tragic case”, Judge Bevan said: “This was a killing of extreme and sustained violence, involving 20 or more stab wounds. She was the gratuitous victim of your drunken rage.”

He added: “It was an attack by a severely intoxicated man suffering from alcohol dependency syndrome [...] it was not premeditated, although it was possibly the result of an earlier suggestion by her to leave him.”

Hanging his head as he was sentenced, the court heard how Richardson was “devastated” by the killing. He offered an apology and his condolences to his former girlfriend’s grieving family.

The court also heard how the killing of Miss Czekaj had left her family distraught. She was described by her cousin and mother as “extremely popular and hard working who was liked by everyone who knew her”.

This is the second tragedy to befall the family after Miss Czekaj’s father, a former police officer in Poland, was also killed when she was aged just two – something that was said to hang a shadow over her life.

Regulars at The Alliance described Miss Czekaj as a “kind and caring person”.

As reported in the Ham&High, drinkers at the pub helped raise £8,400 to help repatriate her body and pay for the funeral after hearing her grieving family could not afford the high costs.

Det Insp Simon Pickford, of the Met’s Homicide and Major Crime Command, said: “Natalia died during a frenzied attack, which may have been fuelled by Richardson’s dependency on alcohol.

“Richardson will have time to think about the consequences of his actions behind bars.”