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Dover tiler’s taunting texts to pal after attacking him in Folkestone with 6ft spirit level

A homeless thug violently assaulted a friend who had given him a bed for the night with a large spirit level and then sent him sinister texts in hospital saying "lucky I didn't finish you".

Victim Justin Slater was having his head stapled and leg stitched when he received the taunting messages from his attacker, Stuart Harris.

Stuart Harris, from Dover, has been jailed after attacking a friend with a spirit level
Stuart Harris, from Dover, has been jailed after attacking a friend with a spirit level

Canterbury Crown Court heard a second text contained a smiling emoji with love heart eyes and the third menacingly read: “Have you been to Staplehurst or are you on another level?”

Mr Slater, who suffered a fractured skull, said he took this as a reference to the treatment he needed and the 6ft-long tool he had been struck unconscious with on July 14 last year.

Harris, 37, from Leyburne Road, Dover, pleaded guilty to causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Mr Slater, as well as assaulting neighbour Matthew Sparkes - who injured his hand as he blocked one of the blows from the implement - and possessing an offensive weapon.

Mr Sparkes later described how he feared Mr Slater would die in the "quite disturbing" incident.

Prosecutor Caroline Knight told the court Harris had, in an "act of charity", been invited to stay at Mr Slater's home overnight, only to react violently after being asked to leave the following day.

Stuart Harris sent his victim sinister texts while he was in hospital
Stuart Harris sent his victim sinister texts while he was in hospital

"There was a quite unprovoked attack with a weapon by this defendant, that weapon being an extremely long spirit level," she said.

"The assault continued for some minutes and the injuries sustained were extremely serious. There is no dispute this was a serious wounding."

But the court was told at what is known as a Newton hearing - when a judge decides a disputed issue rather than a jury - that Harris claimed he acted in self-defence, alleging Mr Slater twice threatened him with a knife.

However, Miss Knight continued: "This was an act of charity on the part of Mr Slater which could only last one night. The defendant took very badly to having been asked to leave and had to be forced to go.

"He came back, having armed himself quite deliberately with what turned out to be an extremely dangerous weapon."

The two men had known each other for about a year when Mr Slater, who lives with his 79-year-old disabled mum in Folkestone, offered to put Harris up for one night after he was evicted.

However, things turned nasty when Harris, who had not slept for two days and was using cocaine, was told to leave the two-bedroom council property.

The tiler "wasn't happy about it", Mr Slater told the court, but left with his two suitcases before returning about 20 minutes later to collect other belongings, including two "throwing" knives he owned.

Mr Slater said they were locked in their sheath and in carrier bags but, because of his friend's "temper and demeanour", he did not want to hand them over.

Instead, he explained how he concealed them by wrapping them three times horizontally in his boxers waistband, then tucked them inside his shorts before going outside to hand over the bags.

Stuart Harris claimed he acted in self defence
Stuart Harris claimed he acted in self defence

He said as he walked up his garden path he noticed Harris leaning on the spirit level and as he placed the bags on the pavement outside his gate he was attacked.

"I took the first blow to the back of my head from the spirit level," Mr Slater told the hearing. "I stumbled a bit, the first one didn't knock me out.

"I was stumbling forward where Stuart continued to swing this spirit level at me. I had my arm up to try and defend my head. I remember at least another six blows.

"I was still stumbling but then I don't really remember much else because I was knocked unconscious.

"I just recall stumbling. Stuart was running round me - from what I've been told by my neighbours and mum. He was hitting me from all angles and I was trying to defend myself."

Miss Knight said the knives were found in Mr Slater's shorts by paramedics treating him at the scene and had to be "unravelled" from his clothing.

Mr Slater denied he had ever threatened dad-of-two Harris with the blades or said he would "slash" his neck.

In the three texts sent by Harris, he branded Mr Slater a "disrespectful child" and "a psycho", adding: "I am lucky, no you are, that I've got respect and didn't finish you."

The second text was simply the emoji, followed by the third with the references to "Staplehurst" and "another level".

Mr Slater, who did not respond to any of the messages, said: "I took that as a reference to the staples I had to have and 'another level' being the spirit level."

Stuart Harris, from Dover, has been jailed. Picture: Kent Police
Stuart Harris, from Dover, has been jailed. Picture: Kent Police

Neighbour Mr Sparkes told the court he was working on his van parked in the street and almost adjacent to Mr Slater's home when he heard "scuffling and shouting".

He said the next thing he saw was Harris "smashing Justin over the head", as well as striking him to his chest and shins while saying: "You are not such a big man now.”

"He was full of adrenalin, like he really wanted to hurt him, and struck him while he was out cold on the ground. Quite disturbing," added Mr Sparkes.

The court was told Harris was also seen holding the workman's tool above his head, hurling racist abuse at Mr Slater and threatening to "come back and finish him off."

Asked about the victim's state, Mr Sparkes told the court: "He was in and out of consciousness. I thought he was going to die because his eyes were flickering."

Harris, who has 14 previous convictions for 18 offences including numerous for assault and offensive weapons, told the court he left the house at about 8pm after Mr Slater had threatened to "slice" him.

He said he then returned for his other belongings, bringing with him a spirit level he had stolen from a nearby building site.

Isabelle Gillard, defending, told the sentencing hearing on Friday that there was evidence to suggest the victim had been "looking for a row" that day and was "less docile" then portrayed.

However, Harris's claims that it was only when Mr Slater ran at him with a knife in his hand that he lashed out with the tool were rejected by the judge.

Recorder John Bate-Williams said "a degree of provocation" was limited to Mr Slater's chucking of suitcases belonging to "a man in a housing crisis" down the stairs.

Ruling that Harris posed a danger to the public of serious harm, he imposed an extended sentence consisting of five years and four months' imprisonment with an additional two years added to any licence period once released.

He told Harris: "Mr Slater had been trying to help you in the aftermath of you being evicted from your flat....You attacked him with a surveyor's large-scale spirit level, striking him to the head and body as he tried forlornly to defend himself.

"Your knives were found in his trousers or pants, and I am sure they had not been displayed immediately before you attacked him.

"You attacked him not in self defence but to express your anger at his decision to evict you, as you saw it, from his house. That anger was subsequently expressed in the provocative messages you sent him later."

The court heard that Mr Slater, who suffered numerous lacerations and had to have 21 stitches to a Y-shaped wound on his head, was diagnosed with PTSD three months later.

Harris's sentence also included unrelated offences of possessing an offensive weapon and having a bladed article - namely a metal walking stick concealing two blades inside and a metal truncheon disguised as a torch - in March 2021, and breach of a suspended sentence order imposed in January that same year for a further offensive weapon charge.

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