Gardener's terror rampage with chainsaw and petrol

A GARDENER brought terror to neighbours and police when he went on a rampage with a chainsaw, a court heard yesterday.

James Aitken, 33, sawed his way through doors and furniture as a family barricaded themselves in a bedroom. He also sawed the wing mirror from a van before torching it.

When police were called to the scene in Whitecraig, East Lothian, Aitken doused officers with petrol and threatened them by flicking his lighter before he was finally brought down by baton blows and CS gas.

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At the High Court in Edinburgh, judge Lord Brodie described the events of the early house of 26 February as "bizarre". Solicitor advocate John Scott, defending, said attempts had been made to link Aitken's behaviour to a controversial anti-depressant, seroxat.

But he had been taking it for some time without complication. He had also been drinking - against medical advice.

Advocate depute Alex Prentice, prosecuting, told how soon after father-of-two Aitken and his wife, Mandy, had returned home from a family function, Mrs Aitken heard a noise and looked out to see her husband smoking and taking items from the boot of his car. When he wouldn't come back into the house, or say what was wrong, Mrs Aitken ran to her parents' house nearby and police were called.

"Mrs Aitken could hear a noise like a motorbike revving," Mr Prentice said. Father-in-law James Keenan went outside to see Aitken holding a running chainsaw above his head and saying he was looking for his wife.

"He looked as if he was on another planet," Mr Keenan told police later.

Aitken then headed for a house where two children aged 11 and eight were asleep in their bunk beds and flung a slab through the window, showering the bed covers with broken glass. The noise woke their parents who headed for the children's room.

Aitken was seen cutting the mirror from a van before sawing his way through a downstairs window shouting: "Mandy, Mandy, Mandy."

"At this stage the family barricaded themselves and their children in the children's bedroom," said Mr Prentice. "They were terrified the accused was going to kill them."

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Police arrived to find Aitken in the roadway with his chainsaw which he swung as he approached the police car.

Mr Prentice said Aitken then put the chainsaw down and walked away, taking a petrol can and pitchfork from his driveway. He doused the van with petrol and set light to it with his lighter. As PCs John Neilands and Gordon Millar approached, Aitken swore and threw petrol at them, splashing one officer on the arms and legs.

"Witnesses saw him spark his lighter towards the police in a taunting manner," said Mr Prentice. CS gas appeared to have no effect as Aitken continued to swing the can wildly, spraying petrol into PC Millar's face before he was overpowered.

The court heard that after his arrest Aitken was taken to hospital where he began to bite his wrists and bang his head against a wall.

Mr Scott said that after his arrest Aitken was examined but no signs of acute psychiatric illness were found. "Indications by family and friends and others are that this conduct is entirely unexplained and out of character on the part of a quiet, hard-working, family man," said the lawyer.

Aitken was remanded in custody and Lord Brodie ordered background reports. Aitken admitted vandalism, culpable and reckless conduct, breach of the peace and assault.

He will be sentenced at a later date.

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