Paul Knipe said God told him to try to kill a tourist by hitting him over the head with a cobblestone. Photograph: North Yorkshire police/PA
A man undergoing psychiatric care who almost murdered a tourist outside York Minster by hitting him repeatedly with a cobblestone has been jailed for a minimum of four and a half years.
Paul Knipe remained calm throughout his assault on 78-year-old South African Lyle Thole, telling him and members of the clergy who intervened that he was mentally ill and had been told by God to carry out the attack.
He was told by a judge at York crown court that he would remain in prison for the public's protection until doctors considered that his condition had improved enough for his safe release. The court heard that Thole, who was on a golfing holiday in Yorkshire, had needed 30 stitches after losing a dangerous amount of blood and was traumatised following the attack.
Judge Stephen Ashurst, the recorder of York, was told at a sentencing hearing that Knipe had picked his victim at random, following him through the centre of York until he took a wrong turning into a dead end by the Minster. He knocked the elderly man to his knees with his first blow and then struck him four more times, saying: "One more blow and I will kill you."
Nicholas Barker, prosecuting, said that Knipe, who admitted attempted murder, spoke with a "controlled but menacing" voice. He said: "He was described as having a face that looked dead, with a vacant look. Another witness described him as being in a trancelike state."
When clergy intervened, he told them straight away: "I attacked him because God told me to." After he was arrested, he gave police a prepared statement saying: "I have been hearing voices for around a year, telling me to kill people. I have told my psychiatrist on a number of occasions about these voices but they've told me as long as I don't act on them, everything will be OK.
"Last night, the voices kept telling me to hurt somebody and if I did, they would leave me alone. I saw a man walking and I hit him with a stone."
The court heard that he had been detained under the Mental Health Act in April 2011 and given psychiatric care after telling a police officer that he was going to kill someone and would be on newspaper front pages.
David Dixon, defending, said in mitigation that Knipe had led a "normal, responsible and caring life" until his mother died several years ago. Flanked by two psychiatric hospital staff, Knipe stared straight ahead from the dock without showing any emotion as sentence was passed.
Ashurst told him: "You attacked a completely blameless stranger, and the attack was an extremely dangerous one. Mr Thole was in a terrible state and it is fortunate indeed that a number of members of the clergy at York Minster were on hand and you did not persist."
Detective Chief Inspector Nigel Costello, of North Yorkshire police, said: "Such was the ferocity of the assault only the fitness and good health of the victim prevented the injuries from causing more serious complications.
"We are pleased Knipe pleaded guilty in November, sparing the victim the ordeal of a trial. I would also like to add my thanks to the members of the public who came to the victim's aid and those who witnessed the incident and came forward to assist the police investigation."