Polish friends of West Hampstead barmaid slam UK judge for killer’s four year jail term
- Credit: Archant
The loved ones of a barmaid who was stabbed more than 20 times during a frenzied attack say they have been left “disgusted” by the British justice system after a judge said her killer should only spend four years in jail because he is an alcoholic.
Natalia Czekaj (pictured) 34, was almost decapitated when boyfriend James Richardson launched into a drunken rage with a kitchen knife after a drinking session at their home.
Her death, on January 6, shocked drinkers at The Alliance pub in West Hampstead where she worked, and left her family and friends back in her native Poland devastated.
But her killer avoided standing trial for murder when his defence successfully argued his alcoholism meant he had diminished responsibility.
On Friday (October 2), the 35-year-old was instead sentenced at the Old Bailey to six years in prison for manslaughter, of which he will serve just four.
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Lucas Leczycki, a close friend of Miss Czekaj, told the Ham&High from his hometown in Poland: “I’m shocked by the sentence. Natalia was my first love and she had a special place in my heart.
“It’s terrible. Not just for us, her friends and family, but for British society as well. The judge has sent a message that if you want to kill someone, then drink a lot before you do it. If the victim was a child would the judge have given the same?”
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Natalia’s childhood friend, Eva Zawisza, said she was stunned after hearing news of the judge’s sentence.
The 34-year-old, who runs a beauty salon in Mitcham, said: “I’m really upset. Natalia was so smiley, so full of energy. It’s just not long enough. In Poland, people get more just for stealing. I know there’s nothing to change what’s happened, but this man took a life. If you have a problem with alcohol, fine, but that doesn’t give you more of a right to kill.”
Her brother, mother and extended family are said by friends to also be distraught and angry. Her cousin and mother described her 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 murdered when she was aged just two – something the court heard had cast a shadow over her life.
The Old Bailey heard how Miss Czekaj, who came to London from her native Poland 10 years ago, may have been killed after suggesting to her partner of four years they split up.
It had left Richardson, of Berridge Green, Edgware, “jealous and possessive”, the court heard.
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.”
The court had heard how Richardson was more than four times over the drink driving limit at the time of the attack.
Having pleaded guilty to manslaughter in June, he said he had no memory of that fateful evening and insisted he loved Miss Czekaj.
Hanging his head as he was sentenced, the court heard how he was “devastated” by the killing and he offered an apology and his condolences to his former girlfriend’s grieving family.
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 impaired his responsibility.
Regulars at The Alliance, who helped raise more than £8,000 after the family said they couldn’t afford to repatriate her body, described Miss Czekaj as a “kind and caring person”.
On his release, he will remain on licence for a further five years.