A boater brandished a lump hammer at an off-duty police officer, telling him that he had gone to prison for ‘14 years for killing someone - and he’d do it again’.

That claim was a lie. Despite a lengthy criminal record that included convictions for violence, Lee Pullen had never done time for a killing.

But the off-duty police officer, who had stepped in after seeing 40-year-old Pullen arguing with a woman near Sandford Lock on the River Thames, did not know that.

“The officer interpreted that as a serious threat,” prosecutor Miles Trigg told Oxford Crown Court on Friday (February 10).

The court heard that the policeman, Christopher Tack, was walking by the river with his partner on August 6 when he heard shouting up ahead. The noise appeared to be coming from a river cruiser-style boat moored on the bank.

Mr Trigg said the officer stepped in after hearing words ‘to the effect of “I’m going to kill you”’.

“He decided to go over the bridge to the other side of the towpath to see what was going on. He was concerned there was an assault taking place,” the prosecutor said.

“When he approached, he saw this defendant standing over a female and he said he believes she looked scared and was cowering.”

Mr Tack asked whether the woman was okay and, in reply, the defendant swore at him. Pullen was said to have then told the officer: “I’m going to hit you with this lump hammer.”

He lifted the weapon in the air as if to swing it and disembarked the boat. The police officer backed away, keeping Pullen in sight, but became ‘cornered against a tree’.

Pullen was said to have shouted that he had ‘gone to prison for 14 years for killing someone and he’d do it again’, Mr Trigg said. “The officer interpreted that as a serious threat. [He said:] ‘I genuinely believed he had the intention of using the hammer to assault me.’”

The court was told that the officer warned the hammer-man he should not ‘beat up his girlfriend’, to which he replied ‘she cheated on me’.

From the dock, Pullen interjected: “That’s a lie.”A few minutes later, the defendant trounced out of the dock – having shouted ‘it’s b*******’. The judge, Recorder Samantha Presland, noted: “He’s just stormed out of court.”

The defendant, of Sandhill, Shrivenham, returned to court after lunch and apologised for his earlier interruption.

Mitigating, Emma Hornby said her client had been struggling with the sudden death of his father at the time of the riverside incident, and had not been taking medication prescribed for mental health difficulties.

Pullen, who was due to stand trial on affray and other charges, pleaded guilty on Friday to alternative offences of common assault and possession of an offensive weapon.

Jailing him for a year, Recorder Presland said of the offence: “This was a particularly unpleasant assault, the second offence being a common assault. He was in genuine fear, with you threatening him with a hammer.

“One blow to the head could be deadly and it is understandable he was extremely concerned about this.”

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This story was written by Tom Seaward. He joined the team in 2021 as Oxfordshire's court and crime reporter.  

To get in touch with him email: Tom.Seaward@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter: @t_seaward