St Leonards man sentenced to life for chopping off victim’s thumbs

Stephen Bryant. Photo courtesy of Sussex Police
Stephen Bryant. Photo courtesy of Sussex Police

A man has been sentenced today (Friday, December 2) to life imprisonment after chopping off the thumbs of his victim.

Stephen Bryant, from St Leonards, attacked his 36-year-old acquaintance in May last year.

Police were initially alerted after the victim was seen being dragged from his home in Earl Street around 10am on May 29.

However, just 45 minutes later the victim managed to make his way to some remote cottages between Robertsbridge and Salehurst suffering terrible injuries and emergency services were called.

The man was bleeding heavily from his hands and it soon became apparent both of his thumbs had been severed almost entirely from his hands.

Although the victim initially refused to tell police many details, he said that he had been held down and attacked with an axe.

He suffered serious lacerations to each hand, severed arteries and tendons and crushed bones.

CCTV traced a BMW travelling on the road, the car owned by Stephen Bryant, a local gym owner.

Detectives traced him and arrested him in June 2015.

Police said the victim was not supportive of the police investigation and detectives turned to phone technology to help with the case.

Detective Constable Nick O’Shaughnessy used phone messages between Bryant and his associates to prove his intentions to harm the victim.

In a text message on May 24, just a few days before the incident, Bryant texted saying ‘found him boys and all in “hand” LOL’, making it clear his plan for the victim.

Bryant, 39, of The Mount, St Leonards was charged in March this year with kidnap and GBH with intent, to which he pleaded not guilty.

He stood trial at Hove Crown Court between September 13 and 20 and was found of guilty of both offences.

Sentencing him to life imprisonment for the assault, with a minimum term of 10 years, HH Judge Anthony Niblett said: “The brutality of these offences was exceptional. It was a brutal and sadistic attack on a vulnerable man. It was premeditated, carefully planned and well executed.”

HHJ Niblett added that he considered Bryant to be unpredictable and potentially highly dangerous. He also imposed a 10-year sentence for the kidnap offence.

He went on to congratulate investigating officer, Detective Constable Nick O’Shaughnessy, awarding him a Judge’s Commendation for a painstaking and thoroughly professional investigation, noting that the officer had faced personal danger and shown great courage in bringing the offender to justice.

DC O’Shaughnessy said: “The victim’s injuries to his hands were horrendous and he has undergone a large amount of surgery.

“However, he will never have the same movement in his hands again and the injury has been life-changing.

“The incident was in connection with a drugs debt. Bryant is an extremely violent man and his actions that day were vicious beyond words.

“He is well-known in the St Leonards area and believed he was above the law.

“I am very pleased he has been sent to prison for life, which sends out a strong message that we will do everything in our power to catch and bring offenders to justice.”

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