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This week Thomas was beginning a life sentence for the murder of Sharon Stokes, who was looking for a good time, and possibly romance, on the evening before Valentine’s Day.
After drinking 10 pints of lager, as well as champagne and Sambuca, Thomas chatted up the 35-year-old care worker and persuaded her to take him back to her bedsit. There he told her he was a monster, the Grim Reaper, and battered her to death with the half brick Stokes used as a doorstop. Thomas stamped on her so hard it left the imprint of the sole of his shoe on her head.
At 5am on Valentine’s Day, Thomas rang his mother and told her: “Mum, I have killed someone.” Later he said to police: “At last they will take me out of society.”
Sentencing Thomas at Exeter crown court, Judge Graham Cottle told him he was so dangerous that he would probably never be released. In court it was said he had a psychopathic personality disorder and a depressive illness.
Mental health campaigners joined the mothers of both the killer and the victim in criticising the system for not doing more for Thomas before he murdered. The charity Sane called for an inquiry and said its research suggested that a third of killers with mental health problems had asked for help but not received it. Stokes’s mother, Kathleen, told the Guardian even she felt sympathy for Thomas. “He was a sick boy. He tried to ask for help. He should have got help.”
The younger of two brothers, Adam Thomas grew up in Exmouth in south Devon and went to the £9,000-a-year Exeter school. He was by far the brightest boy in his class and cruised to nine GCSEs and three A-levels. But Mrs Thomas became worried about her son because he seemed so cold, shunning cuddles, hating to touch or be touched. He was assessed by a psychiatrist but given a clean bill of health.
After school Thomas went to Portsmouth University but dropped out of his business studies course. He began drinking heavily and getting into minor scrapes. He was charged with a couple of minor public order offences.
Thomas got a job as a civil servant in Exeter, but it did not challenge a man of his abilities. He would loll in his chair, trying to shock colleagues by telling them about the pornographic films he watched. He was drinking so much that his mother took his bank card from him.
In October last year Thomas drove to the New Forest in Hampshire and tried to kill himself, but bungled it. Back at home he told his mother he was not like other people. He was “wired wrong”.
A psychiatric crisis team examined Thomas but he was only prescribed antidepressants. “They treated me like a housewife, gave me a pill and told me to go away,” Thomas told a psychiatrist who spoke to him after the murder
On January 26 he crashed his car into the front of Barclays bank in Exmouth. Later he said: “They did not take me seriously. They did not think I was mental. I did this to prove it.”
His mother demanded that he be kept in hospital and treated, but he was discharged and was put on a waiting list for another hospital appointment.
On Valentine’s eve, Thomas removed his bank card from his mother’s purse and went out on the town. At the Fahrenheit club in Exmouth he met a group of women, including Stokes. She had been drinking in her local, Fat Jax. This week her friends hung a poignant memorial to her above the bar – two photographs of the happy, friendly woman with the inscription: “Shazza, simply the best … We love you always.”
Thomas showed her no mercy. He was to tell the police he felt “powerful” as he attacked her. “I remember I was quite enjoying the experience. I remember thinking she was doing amazingly well not to be dead already …
“I felt pretty detached. I don’t think there was much rage. It was like hitting a bag of cement.
“By any social standards at all it is appalling behaviour but I don’t really feel anything about it. My empathy … was switched off months ago.”
In court Mrs Thomas described her efforts to get help. “He was just getting more bizarre in his thoughts,” she said.
“I asked the police to have him sectioned. It was a cry for help but I had a call from the crisis team who had seen him saying he was being released.
“My son needs help. I asked for help and did not get it.”
The police have reviewed their contacts with Thomas and believe they could not have seen the tragedy coming.
The Devon Partnership NHS trust said it would “review the facts to see if any lessons can be learned”. It said: “Adam Thomas did have contact with our services and we are confident that the clinical process was in place to determine what, if any, specialist help and support he needed.”
The letter confirming a date for Thomas’s next hospital appointment was sent on February 13. By the time it arrived Stokes was dead and Thomas was explaining to police what it had felt like to kill. It is only now, after being jailed for life, that Thomas is in a secure hospital receiving the treatment he and his family felt he needed.