Episode 46 - James Fairweather: Britain's Youngest Serial Killer

In the early morning hours of the 29th of March 2014, a person walking through Castle Park in Colchester noticed a man lying unusually still in the grass to the side of the path. They could hear gurgling and as they approached, they were horrified to discover the man was completely covered in blood from the top of his head to the bottom of his legs.  

This innocent and vulnerable member of the community was the first victim of what would become Britain’s youngest serial killer.  


James Fairweather was born on the 5th of August 1998 in Colchester, Essex, just north of London. His parents Anita and James Fairweather raised him in a stable, middle-class home. James was known as a quiet and gentle boy. A year 6 school report even described him as “well-behaved and sensitive to the needs of others.” 

However, as James got older his behaviour began to change. Unbeknownst to him and his parents, James was both dyslexic and autistic which caused him to struggle with schoolwork and he had trouble paying attention. In the school playground, he was the target of vicious bullies who teased him about the prominence of his ears.  

By the time he reached high school, the once quiet and gentle boy had been replaced by an angry and surly teenager who was quick to violence. If something didn’t go his way, he would throw furniture, punch walls or shout expletives at students and teachers alike. Outside of the classroom, the victim became the bully and James took great pleasure in taking out all his aggression on those smaller than him. He began missing classes and even when he did show up, he wouldn’t participate in the class. On at least one occasion he brought a knife to school and on another, he threatened to bring a gun. Everyone hoped James was just going through a rebellious teenage phase and that given time he would return to the pleasant boy he had once been.  

When James said he wanted to be a murderer when he grew up, his peers laughed it off. Little did they know, James was just months away from becoming exactly that.  

James was just 14 years old his grandmother passed away. Despite his surly exterior and ruthless nature, he was remarkably close to the woman, and her death rocked his already fragile state of mind. And this also appears to have been about the time everything changed for James.   

On the evening of March 28th, 2014, James snuck out of his home into the night… 

Somebody Knows More | Listen Notes

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James Attfield:  

James Attfield was a father of four who resided in the town of Colchester in Essex, just like 14-year-old James Fairweather.  

James was known as Jim to his friends and was an incredibly shy and polite man, a doting father who loved his kids dearly. When he wasn’t with his kids, he enjoyed having a few drinks at the pub by himself followed by belting out his favourite tunes at Karaoke.  

Jim’s sister recalled that he had a “smashing smile and cheeky grin,” and in his childhood, he would constantly pull silly pranks on her and their friends.  

As he grew older, he had matured into a kind man who was always willing to help others. Aside from his kids, he doted on his mother and sister whom he was remarkably close with and who lived just around the corner from him.  

In 2010, when Jim was in his late twenties, he had been struck by a vehicle as he walked down the road. The accident left him severely brain-damaged, which meant he had to relearn how to walk, eat and talk again. But the most tragic effect of the brain damage was losing all memory of his five children. A couple of years before the accident, Jim and the mother of his children, Cheryl, had separated but James saw the kids regularly and loved being their dad. However, after the accident, Cheryl made the heart-wrenching decision to limit his visitation with the children as she feared the impact of him telling them he didn’t know who they were.  

But in 2014 things were beginning to look up and after 4 years of intensive physical therapy, Jim had started to recover his memories. He could once again recognise his children and Cheryl had excitedly told the kids they were going to get to know their dad again.  

Tragically, the reunion was stolen from Jim and his four children on the night of March 28th, 2014.  

That night, Jim had a few drinks at the pub and on the walk home he cut through Castle Park in the centre of town. He stopped to light a cigarette but fell asleep on the ground. At around 1 am a passer-by noticed Jim sleeping on the ground and mentioned to him to beware of the dangers that can lurk around in the night. Jim mumbled a hasty “I’m fine” and returned to his sleep.  

A few hours later at around 5.45 am a person walking through the park noticed Jim and walked over to see if he was ok. Jim was covered in blood, but he was still breathing. When paramedics and police arrived to help him, they transferred him to a nearby hospital but tragically, just one hour after arriving, Jim succumbed to his injuries and passed away. 

He had been stabbed to death in a crime which officials would label as being “Too gruesome to describe.” 

Jim’s autopsy took more than nine hours to complete due to the extent of the injuries he had received. It revealed he had 102 stab wounds ranging from light slashes to deep cuts including one directly through his eye. The wounds stretched from his face all the way to his legs including his arms, torso, and abdomen. 

The attack had resulted in him losing almost all the blood in his body.  

Jim’s body also showed signs of widespread defensive wounds. It was clear Jim had fought viciously for his life. The defensive wounds proved that James had been conscious throughout the attack. But sadly, due to a combination of his disabilities, his intoxication, and the severity of the assault, he had been unable to ward off his attacker.  

The investigation into Jim’s brutal murder got underway immediately.  

After being informed of Jim’s death, his family were asked if there was anyone who would want to hurt him, or if he had had any altercations in the past which may have led to his demise. The family recalled that Jim was a kind, harmless man who loved his kids and there was no way he would have done anything to cause someone to attack him with such viciousness. They believed the attack must have been random. 

Officers tended to agree, but with so little forensic evidence there was little to go on, so they had to explore every angle. A 1.5-mile perimeter was set up around the scene and the park was thoroughly combed over for any sign of items that may be connected to the slaying. The search turned up nothing of interest, and while Jim’s body showed plenty of signs of the crime, there was nothing to identify who had conducted the attack.  

Police scoured databases and interviewed every known offender in the area who had been involved in a knife crime. None of these interviews turned up any solid leads and the investigation soon stalled.  

The passage of time did little to put residents’ minds at ease. No one believed the killer had just up and left the town and as the days, weeks and then months passed and no suspects were identified, residents became fearful that a crazed killer was on the loose. And they were right to be worried.  

Murdering Jim had given James a taste of the violence he craved. The fact that he had avoided being caught gave him a sense of superiority… and it wasn’t long before the craving for blood became a bone-deep need.  

On June the 17th 2014, three months after Jim’s brutal death, James set out from his home with murder on his mind once again… 


Nahid Almanea was a 31-year-old woman from Saudi Arabia who was living in Essex while she attended university. Her family described her as a “warm and loving person who was loved for her kind and caring nature “. They went on to say that “Publicly Nahid was a quiet and dignified lady who chose to pursue her academic studies, in order to work towards her PhD and while in England she made a decision that she would respect her heritage and traditions in the way that she dressed and conducted herself. “However, when she was with her family, Nahid was a warm and loving person who enjoyed laughter and the company of her parents, siblings and extended family.” 

She was just two months away from completing a PhD in English Language at the University of Essex when James Fairweather came into her life and stole her future.  

That morning she woke up and had breakfast before taking her usual route through Colchester on her way to campus. She usually walked to classes with her brother but that day he had to leave the apartment they shared, earlier than usual so today, she was walking alone.  

James was waiting as he hid inside some overgrowth alongside the pathway. He wasn’t waiting for Nahid specifically, he was waiting for anyone. It turns out that, unlike the serial killers he idolised, James was happy to attack any random person whom he came across. There was no profile, no identifying features he was looking for, all he needed was a person he felt that he could overpower.  

Nahid was just that. The slight woman was wearing her hijab and walking with her head down as she crossed the park.  

James Fairweather leapt from the bushes and attacked Nahid from behind with such ferocity that she had little chance to defend herself. He was holding a bayonet, the kind that can be attached to the end of a rifle. He used the weapon to pierce her kidneys and deep into her chest. He then stabbed Nahid in a way which would later be identified as a signature of his kills – he used the knife to stab her directly through both of her eyes.  

James then dragged Nahid’s body into the overgrowth where it was discovered by a neighbour who had been searching for his lost cat. He was horrified by the discovery of Nahid’s bloodied and bruised body and specifically by seeing one of her eyes hanging from its socket.  

Nahid’s autopsy revealed that she had been stabbed sixteen times, and once again the injuries were a mix of deep and superficial cuts.  

What made this crime even more shocking was that it had occurred in broad daylight on a popular walking trail known as the Salary Brook trail. This path was used by hundreds of students every day on their walk to campus. It seemed that the killer had no fear of being seen or being caught. This fact alone made them infinitely more dangerous and the pressure to apprehend the attacker quickly was intense.  

Officials did not immediately tie the murders of Jim and Nahid together. In terms of their personal profiles, they could not have been further apart. Jim was a man and Nahid was a woman, Jim was white whereas Nahid was Saudi Arabian, they had vastly different backgrounds, social circles, movements, and lifestyles. There was no link between the two victims. Even the attacks themselves were different. Jim had been stabbed 102 times whereas Nahid had been stabbed sixteen times. Jim had been murdered in the middle of the night and Nahid in the middle of the day. There was only the nagging similarity of the injuries to both victims’ eyes which led to a possible tie between the two slayings.  

With no definitive link, the investigations ran concurrently. But just like with Jim’s murder, Nahid’s murder had a troublingly small amount of evidence and nothing which could be used to identify her killer.  

Yet again, days turned into weeks and then months with no suspects. By January 2015 more than 6 months had passed with no suspects named or apprehended in Nahid’s murder. Nine hundred potential witnesses had been interviewed and nine people had been arrested and released in connection with the murder. One of these interviews was with 15-year-old James Fairweather who had been convicted of a knifepoint robbery in January, just three days before Jim’s murder. As a result of that incident, James had been subject to a juvenile probationary period which was supposed to limit his movements but there was little monitoring, meaning James was free to come and go as he pleased.  

When he was interviewed by police in relation to Nahid’s stabbing, James told police that he was at home asleep during the time of the murder. His mother had attended the interview with him and backed up his story as she believed that is exactly what he was doing. So, he was released without being identified as a suspect.  

Little did they know what was going on inside James’s mind. 

It turns out that James’s proclamations of wanting to be a murderer when he grew up, were just the tip of the iceberg. He was a teenager with a disturbed mind and the knifepoint robbery was merely his first foray into turning his fantasies into reality.  

James was obsessed with serial killers. His Internet search history would later reveal hours spent looking at any information he could get his hands on about Jack the Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe the Yorkshire Ripper, Stockwell Strangler Kenneth Erskine, Ipswich serial killer Steve Wright and US murderer Ted Bundy. 

Because of Nahid’s ethnicity and the fact she was wearing a hijab, officials commented that her murder was a possible hate crime which prompted warnings about possible retaliation in the UK. The issue was so serious that the Islamic State of Iraq threatened to order revenge attacks with a man claiming to be an ISIS fighter posting online “any brother to take up knife to kill as they did,” and using the hashtag ‘Colchester.” Officials tried to calm the waters by reassuring the public that they were actively investigating all angles of the murder.  

Nahid’s family in Saudi Arabia made a heartfelt plea to the killer – “We wish to appeal directly to the person responsible for Nahid’s death, to come forward and hand themselves in to the police, in order to relieve our suffering and let justice take its course.” 

But their plea and an intense investigation did not yield any further results. By then, members of Colchester were thoroughly convinced that a killer or even two killers were on the loose. Officials handed out more than three thousand personal alarms to members of the community who were worried about becoming the next victim. Council contractors also cut back overgrowth in public parks to remove possible hiding places for the predator. Throughout this time, residents of Colchester asserted that there was no way the killer could be a local, because who would attack a member of their own community like that?  

This belief provided a distinct advantage to James. James had managed to dodge suspicion in Jim’s murder and history repeated itself with Nahid. While the investigations focussed on people who lived outside the area, James was able to fly under the radar, undetected.  

Initially, police focussed on Jim’s murder being the result of him having crossed someone during a drunken outburst. With Nahid, they concentrated on suspects with a connection to the Islamic State or anti-Muslim sentiment. Even if they had connected the two killings definitively, they would not have been focussing on a 15-year-old local as the killer, and yet that is exactly who was responsible.  

It was only when a local resident noticed someone lurking in the overgrowth where Nahid had been murdered that James’s actions finally caught up with him.  


On May 27th, 2015, James left home with murder on his mind once again. It had been more than a year since his first killing and James was feeling agitated. He was smart enough to know that the investigation into the murders of his two previous victims meant locals were extra vigilant when it came to safety. He had managed to control his thirst for blood, but he had soon reached the point where he needed to kill again. Nahid had been such an easy target that he chose the same location and used the regrown cover of the overgrowth to stalk out his next victim.  

That morning, Michelle Sadler was walking her dog when she noticed James’s crouching behind a tree. The young man was acting agitated and nervous but that wasn’t what sent a chill down her spine. On his hands were latex rubber gloves. She was well aware of Nahid’s murder in the same spot, and she quickly returned to where her friend was standing and notified the police of what she had seen.  

Minutes later officers descended on the park and questioned the 17-year-old. James told them he was out for a walk to clear his head as he didn’t feel quite right”. He was asked if he was carrying anything he shouldn’t be and he admitted that he had a knife on him. He was arrested without incident and taken to the local station to be interviewed.  

During his interview, James made a shocking confession. He was responsible for BOTH Nahid and Jim’s murders. He told officers that when they found him, he had been hiding out to attack his third victim.  

It was the first time the two stabbings were definitively linked.  

In order to prove his claims, he went as far as to demonstrate to officers how he had carried out the brutal attacks. He described the killings with a calmness that chilled even the most seasoned investigators. When asked what prompted the killings James told the officers that voices told him to do it.  

He started with Jim’s murder, now more than a year earlier when James was just 15 years old.  

“My voices were talking to me, ‘you need to make a sacrifice, or we’re going to come and get you, you need to do it.’ 

“And I saw him, he was lay on the grass like that (closes his eyes and puts his head back in chair), just fast asleep, swear he was drunk. 

“And he goes, he goes ‘you’re the one, he’s the one, he’s the one, do it, do it.’” “Went up to him, stood over like that and I stabbed him first here (points to abdomen) and I done it a few times. 

“While I was doing that my voices were laughing and laughing and laughing and louder and louder.” 

I was using lots of force. I went into a rage. It was about two or three minutes.  

“When you are in a rage and you hear voices laughing at you, you get really good strength. 

“I stabbed him in the head. One shot missed on the side. I hit him in the eye, there was a big pool of blood. I thought he was dead.” 

Then he described Nahid’s slaying: 

“She was walking away from me. She did not notice me. I pulled it (the bayonet) out.  

“It went into her kidneys, I reckon. She stumbled. 

“It was a long knife and obviously went all the way through. 

“I hit her in the eye and killed her instantly. It went through the brain.” 

The police announced to the public that the Colchester Killer was in custody after having confessed. They noted that the person was 17 years old at the time of the confession and because they were a minor their identity was suppressed.  

After his confession, James’s personal belongings were searched and on top of the detailed search history of various serial killers, officers also found a file full of newspaper clippings related to Jim and Nahid’s murders. James had kept the cut-outs as a trophy of sorts indicating that he was enjoying the attention and notoriety he was achieving… just like the killers he so admired.  

With all of this incredibly troubling information and the claims of hearing voices, James was sent for a psychiatric assessment. He was diagnosed with both autism and dyslexia which went some way to explaining some of his challenges at school but not the murders. Despite his claims of hearing voices, James was found to be mentally sane.  

Months later, he would tell his psychiatrist that these same voices had told to him to burn babies, maim prostitutes, and hurt anyone who crossed him. The psychiatrist would later describe these disclosures as some of the “most anti-social and violent thoughts” they had heard in their career.  


James Fairweather’s trial began in January 2016, two years after Jim’s murder. James plead not guilty to murder. His lawyers claimed that the voices proved he was criminally insane and that it would only be fair for him to admit to two charges of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, however, the court did not accept those pleas and the murder trial went ahead.  

Despite having been a minor at the time of the murders, James was tried as an adult due to the severity of his crimes and his proximity to adulthood. By then, his name had been leaked to the public and it was revealed that he had been interviewed in relation to Nahid’s murder. The public demanded answers as to how they had let a child serial killer slip through their fingers. The police were forced to comment:  

“He was one of many who quite readily attended to be interviewed in relation to this matter, he gave an account, and that account was to some extent verified,” said Mr Scothern. 

“There was nothing beyond that to suggest he was linked or displayed any acts or demeanour that gave any more cause for concern. It was a very large-scale inquiry.” 

During his trial, James attempted to withdraw his confession and once again, he blamed the voices, this time for making him confess to something he hadn’t done. On the other side, the prosecution revealed that DNA found on Nahid’s body was a match for James. 

His defence also argued that his autism and paranoia were to blame for his actions and that during both murders he had gone into a fit of rage with no control over himself. They called on three psychiatrists who were all of the opinion that James was suffering from a psychotic episode at the time of the killings. The claims about being controlled by voices were discredited by the sole psychiatrist called by the prosecution who found that he was likely suffering from an emerging psychopathic personality disorder but that even with this diagnosis he was sane enough to understand that what he was doing was wrong. He asserted that James was not under the control of the voices. On top of that, the first time James had ever mentioned voices was when he was arrested.  

More terrifying details were revealed in the trial including from forensic psychologist Keri Nixon who said that in the first murder, the stabbing of Jim’s eye was a mistake as James had claimed but in Nahid’s murder, they could tell his stabbing of her eyes had been intentional because James had gone so far as to remove her glasses. James had felt pleasure and excitement when he had accidentally stabbed Jim and he wanted to feel that feeling again when he attacked Nahid. James’s confession had also been that he had stabbed Nahid in the eyes to ensure she “could not see evil.” A link was drawn to the killer Peter Sutcliffe who had also stabbed one of his victims in the eye.  

Ultimately, the jury sided with the prosecution and after 8 hours of deliberation, they found James Fairweather guilty of both murders.  

Jim’s mother, Julie was given the opportunity to provide a victim impact statement to the court. In it, she described how her pleasant, fun-loving, jovial son and the father of four children was just getting his life back on track after the accident which had left him with brain damage. She spoke of her grief and her anger at how his life had been taken so brutally taken from him, just when it was starting to get better. She commented that she had been unable to work since his murder and had lost her home. 

Nahid’s brother, Raed spoke of his guilt at leaving her to walk to university alone that day when they usually walked together. He shared how he felt his life was not worth living since her death and how their family was crippled by sadness and grief. “My father always wonders why she was killed. My mother cries incessantly, her tears never dry. Life has become meaningless as far as we are concerned.” 

In his sentencing remarks, the judge made a point to note that although James had been diagnosed with autism, it was not grounds for dismissal of the murder charges.  

“The four psychiatrists who gave evidence all agreed that you were and are suffering from autistic spectrum disorder, but that would not in itself have afforded you a defence. Many people of all ages suffer from autism. It would be an unfair and unjustified slur on them to suggest that autism predisposes someone to commit acts of serious violence.  

It follows, in my judgment, that in committing these murders you were acting out your violent sadistic fantasies which had been fuelled by your obsession with serial killers. You had immersed yourself in that obsession for several months at least, reading about serial killers on the internet and in books, and watching DVDs. From the materials found in your home and on your phone, and from what you told the psychiatrists at various times, it is plain that in carrying out these two murders you were seeking to emulate other serial killers, such as Peter Sutcliffe (the Yorkshire Ripper).  

You told the police you had sneaked out of the house through the living room window while your parents were in bed, so as not to disturb them by using the front door. You were looking for someone to attack and kill. You were armed with a large knife, which you described and drew for the police. You were wearing gloves, so as not to leave fingerprints. When you came across James Attfield, a mile or so from your home, he was lying on his back, apparently asleep and obviously drunk. You told the police you stabbed him first in the abdomen with all your strength, four or five times. You then stabbed him in the head several times. You went to stab him again in the side of the head but missed and stabbed him in the eye instead. You said you went into a rage and when you came out of the rage you heard him gurgle and thought he was dead. You saw a light and fearing someone was coming you ran off home.  

It was a brutal, relentless, and cowardly attack on a man who was lying on the ground drunk and incapable of defending himself. 

You were well aware of the publicity this first murder had attracted. I have no doubt that you relished the sense of power and control that it gave you.  

It was nearly 3 months later that you struck again.  

This time there were far fewer stab wounds, but their effect was just as devastating and disturbing. The initial stab wound to the back caused significant damage to the liver. There was a stab wound above the left breast inflicted with force severe enough to fracture the rib beneath. The stab wounds through the eyes caused direct brain injury. They required severe force. You told the police in an interview that you knocked off her glasses specifically so that you could stab her in the eye. This time it was quite deliberate. I have no doubt that the way in which James Attfield had screamed in pain when you stabbed him through the eye had remained with you and excited you.  

It is also very significant in my judgment that there were eight superficial puncture wounds over the left side of the chest and upper abdomen, caused with the tip of the knife which, in the view of the pathologist, were likely to have been inflicted with a significant degree of control. Again, in my judgment, infliction of such injuries is inconsistent with your description of going into a rage. The superficial injuries are reminiscent of the description of injuries I have already mentioned in the material about serial killers found at your home.  

The impact of this second murder on the community in Colchester was to heighten the level of fear and tension even further. The terror which you had created lasted for almost another year until you were eventually arrested on 26th May 2015. You told one of the psychiatrists, Dr Joseph, that during that period of 11 months you spent your time thinking of killing and raping and watching pornography every day. You thought about keeping your head down so as to avoid arrest. The voices wanted you to keep on killing but you could not kill anyone else because the police were everywhere.  

At the police station you were extremely frank in your admissions. The police still had no inkling that you were the killer they had been searching for over the last 14 months. You readily admitted that you were the killer. It was part of your case to the jury that no psychopath would have volunteered admissions to his killings because it would prevent him killing again. In my judgment that is too simplistic. You must have realised when you were arrested that the police were likely now to make the connection. But more importantly you were, in my judgment, still relishing the fact that you had been responsible for these two killings with all the police and media attention they had attracted.  

You now claim not to remember the details of the killings. I have no doubt that the jury found this as unconvincing as your claim to have experienced auditory hallucinations which compelled you to carry out the killings”.  

After these comments, the judge sentenced James Fairweather to life in prison with a minimum term of 27 years.  

After being handed his sentence, James turned to his parents and mouthed the words, “I don’t care.” 

After the sentencing, Jim’s mother Julie said: “James Fairweather is a monster in our eyes – and we will never be able to forgive him.” She later stated, “When something like this happens, it is not just the loss of your loved one, but the loss of everything you’ve known.” 

In September of that year, James appealed his sentence on the grounds that he should not be held responsible for actions taken while under the control of a psychiatric disorder. His lawyers claimed that the sentence was excessive.  

His appeal was denied with the presiding judge noting We are not persuaded it was manifestly excessive in an extremely serious case in which an experienced trial judge took much care over the process of sentencing.” 

James remains Britain’s youngest-ever serial killer. He has since made comments that if he were ever released, he would certainly kill again. He will be eligible for parole in 2042.