A detective has spoken of his relief after a “dangerous” Wigan criminal was caged for an horrific attack which left his victim in a permanent vegetative state.
In an exclusive interview with Wigan Today, the detective who brought thug Anthony Sherburn to justice said that the borough was a safer place now that the Scholes 36-year-old was behind bars.
Related: Wigan thug who left woman in a vegetative state jailed for 16 years
Det Sgt Nigel Rigby described how the police investigation led to Anthony Sherburn getting 16 years behind bars and a further five on licence for causing grievous bodily harm with intent.
The 36-year-old inflicted a catalogue of appalling facial and brain injuries on Sharon O’Reilly in barely a minute after he saw red in an alleyway behind Bryham Street in Scholes last October. The pair were heard arguing over money, Sharon denying that she had stolen from Sherburn.
His victim, who was 34 at the time of the attack, came within minutes of death following the frenzied onslaught and is still requiring round-the-clock care, having spent weeks in an induced coma.
Fortunately, Sherburn, of Darlington Street East, Scholes, was quickly tracked down as the perpetrator of the hideous early-hours crime as his getaway was observed by a local car enthusiast who recognised his distinctive vehicle and alerted the police.
Shockingly it has also emerged since the verdict was passed by Judge Richard Mansell QC at Crown Square in Manchester that this is not the first time Sherburn has been in prison for a serious, violent crime.
He was only 19 when he was convicted of manslaughter after 32-year-old Anthony Eaves died having been stabbed by Sherburn in his Wigan bedsit.
Det Sgt Rigby spoke of his relief that this time the court was able to ensure his stay in jail will be longer, with Sherburn having to serve at least two-thirds of his sentence before being eligible for parole.
He said: “He is a danger to the wider public. Once he has had a drink he clearly has some form of anger issues and becomes quite determined to do whatever he wants regardless of the consequences.
“His victim was a very vulnerable person who was walking with a crutch. There was also a massive difference in height and weight between the two of them. The public is now protected from whatever else Sherburn might do.
“It is shocking that Sharon is still in a vegetative state and still suffering with the injuries inflicted on her.
“He was in that alleyway no more than a minute and has caused so many different injuries to her head and brain.
“It must have been frightening for the neighbours but most of all for Sharon.”
Det Sgt Rigby described the terrifying moment Sherburn pulled up outside the alleyway just before 2am on Thursday, August 9 last year and pursued Sharon, who had already gone down the passage known to residents as the backs.
She went to hide but he got her back into the alley where he punched and kicked or stamped on her before leaving her for dead.
As well as the severe and widespread brain injury Sharon suffered a badly-broken nose, fractures to her right eye socket, her jawbone in two places and her skull. She also suffered bleeding on her brain.
In fact police could very easily have been dealing with a murder inquiry had the emergency services not got to the location so quickly.
While Sherburn’s defence was that he only inflicted a couple of blows on her and couldn’t remember anything else about the attack, and the site where it took place had no CCTV cameras, it is clear that she was struck multiple times.
Det Sgt Rigby said: “It’s sad that Sharon is unable to tell us what happened and never will.
“If the paramedics hadn’t got there so soon she would have died. They had to clear her airways because she was breathing in the blood that was pouring out of her nose.
“She will remain in care in hospital or a hospice for the extent of her life. She is currently being looked after at Salford Royal Hospital.”
Appallingly the GBH with intent was only one of the ways Sherburn flouted the law that night as he drove around the Scholes area in his car having spent several hours drinking in The Raven pub and also taking illicit substances.
That is not even the first occasion he has got behind the wheel when in no fit state to do so.
DS Rigby said: “It’s shocking that he consumed so much alcohol, took drugs and then drove round Wigan looking for more drugs, especially bearing in mind he has previous convictions for drink-driving.”
It was the vehicle, a Mitsubishi, that ensured police were on Sherburn’s case so quickly and were able to arrest him on the Friday just over 24 hours after the attack.
The vital testimony came from Wigan resident Gary O’Shea, whose knowledge of vehicles proved invaluable in what turned out to be a very fast-moving investigation.
Getting to him so quickly also made it crystal clear the person responsible for inflicting the appalling injuries on Sharon was Sherburn.
Det Sgt Rigby said: “What assisted us ultimately was Mr O’Shea’s evidence.
“He identified the type of vehicle and the first part of the registration even though it was quite dark.
“He had seen Sharon earlier that evening with a man he did not know and then heard the thud of the vehicle when it struck a wheelie bin on his street.
“He also told us he had heard noise in the back alleys: an initial strike like a punch, a 30-second gap and then what sounded like kicking.
“There aren’t that many of this type of vehicle in Wigan so we did some research and that led us to Sherburn.
“At the same time we had the CCTV from the town centre which showed him using the bank, so we obtained evidence from them too.
“Everything that pointed to who he was. We had officers waiting at his address. He drove off in his car but was stopped by uniformed police.
“We had quite a small team, I think it was three detectives with support from the force, so we did a lot of work that day.
“If we hadn’t had that evidence it would have been a much longer search.
“The critical thing was that when he was arrested he was wearing the same clothing he wore at the time of the attack.
“Officers saw there was visible blood on his trainer. There was also blood staining on his trouser leg where it had spattered, which was picked up by a forensic scientist.”
Det Sgt Rigby said the force was grateful to all the Scholes residents who heard what happened and ensured police and ambulances were there in minutes and then gave witness statements or testified in court to make sure justice was done.
He said: “We’re grateful to the neighbours. As is the way in Wigan people are generally good-natured and will alert us if they hear something,
“This has been a shocking six months for everybody involved.”