Shane FreerSource:

A loner with Asperger’s syndrome who did not know the difference between right and wrong killed a colleague in ‘cold blooded’ revenge after being sacked.

Shane Freer stabbed grandmother Jackie Marshall to death in a ‘frenzied, ferocious and crazed’ attack in front of horrified diners at the McDonald’s where they worked.

The horrified onlookers included a children’s birthday party she was supervising.

The 21-year-old suffers from an extreme form of autism which prevents him from understanding how other people feel, and still believes he acted appropriately.

He killed the 57-year-old because he thought she had betrayed their apparent friendship by getting him sacked. Sentencing, Judge Anthony Scott-Gall told him: ‘You have no remorse or insight into what you did or why it was so unnecessary and wrong – it was totally without justification. ‘You have no understanding of the impact of this on her family or your own family and therefore there is no barrier to repetition.’ He jailed him for life for the killing, but ordered that he should be detained indefinitely at a secure mental unit. Simon Russell-Flint QC, prosecuting, said the attack was a ‘cold-blooded and merciless killing, entirely motivated by anger and revenge’.

He said Freer had been working in the McDonald’s in Chichester for over a year when he became embroiled in a row with a rowdy teenager last April and punched her in the face. Restaurant managers suspended him on full pay after speaking to witness Mrs Marshall, and the following Saturday he was sacked after a disciplinary hearing. Freer was distraught by the decision and went to a nearby ironmongers and bought an eight inch hunting knife before returning to the restaurant looking ‘agitated’, Lewes Crown Court in Sussex heard. He marched across the floor in front of 40 diners and grabbed his former line manager Mrs Marshall before stabbing her six times, almost severing her nose and causing massive wound to the abdomen.

As panicked customers fled the diner in a mass stampede, Mrs Marshall slumped to the floor pleading: ‘please help me, I’m dying.’ The mother of two, who also had three grandchildren, was rushed to hospital but died two hours later. After his arrest Freer calmly told police: ‘I had to kill her, she got me fired. She had to die’.’ Mrs Marshall, from Southbourne, West Sussex, had been married to husband Edward for 38 years. She had worked at McDonald’s for fifteen years and was nicknamed the ‘balloon lady’ because she ran the children’s parties at the restaurant. It was her kindness that led her to reach out to Freer, a loner who had no friends and rarely spoke to colleagues. He was only allowed to sweep the floors at McDonald’s because he was unable to deal with customers. She sent him a Christmas card signed: ‘To Shane, best wishes from Jackie XX’ which police later discovered proudly on display in his bedroom. It was the only Christmas card Freer had kept.

A source close to the investigation said: “Jackie was the type of person who gave Christmas cards to everybody she worked with. But it seems that Freer might have taken it a bit more personally. ‘It is unlikely that Freer was in love with her – more like he was confused by her friendliness and thought her reporting of him was somehow a betrayal.’

Freer grew up on in stable family home on a small farm in Batchmere, near Chichester.

He made no friends at school and rarely spoke. His only pastimes were watching television and playing computer games, although he did later take an interest in politics and joined the Labour party.

Although he struggled in most subjects, he was in the top set for Maths and later achieved a BTEC in electrical engineering.

Freer had no previous convictions but had once hit a teacher and taken a knife to school to claiming he was going to slash the throat of a girl who had taunted him, before being talked out of it. He also used to keep a shotgun under his bed, although he never used it.

He would hit sometimes punch himself in the head in frustration.

The only people he was close to were his 23-year-old sister Elaine, now a student at Southampton University and 51-year-old mother Rosemary who even would wake him up every morning and make him his breakfast.

Despite his strange behaviour, his parents had no idea of the extent of his mental problems and had never heard of Asperger’s syndrome, the same condition suffered by the narrator in the best selling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Freer denied murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

He told doctors after his arrest that he ‘quite liked’ violence and may “feel it necessary” to kill again.

A prison source who knew Freer on remand said: “He cannot understand what he has done wrong. In his mind someone has done something to harm him and he has acted appropriately. He really was a walking timebomb waiting to go off.”

Mrs Marshall’s sister Gill Colbourne, 51, works as a police officer, said: “Jackie was a fantastic woman whom absolutely everybody adored. Even now the whole family are distraught about what happened.’

Added: March 30, 2007