On Friday 4 January 2019, British man Lee Pomeroy and his 14-year-old son stood on the platform at London Road station in Guildford, southeast England. They were relaxed and chatting as they waited for the train to arrive, which would take them for a day out to celebrate Lee’s 52nd birthday. When the 1:00 p.m. train pulled into the station, they happily boarded, anticipating that the 45-minute journey ahead of them would be uneventful.
36-year-old Darren Pencille also got on the train, having been dropped off by his girlfriend Chelsea Mitchell in her Vauxhall Corsa. Pencille tried to walk past Lee Pomeroy to find a seat, but he felt that the 51-year-old was blocking the aisle. Pencille sarcastically remarked, “Ignorance is bliss,” as he walked away towards the door of an adjoining carriage. Pomeroy called out to ask what the younger man meant by this comment. Pencille turned around to face him and the discussion grew more heated with each passing moment. Pomeroy was heard to say, “You need to apologise to me, you’ve humiliated me in front of my son.” On the CCTV footage, Pencille can be seen pointing at Pomeroy multiple times in an accusatory way, saying, “Leave me alone, leave me alone.” He then pulled out his mobile phone from his pocket to call his girlfriend as he made his way to the next carriage.
The unpleasant situation might have ended there, but Pomeroy decided to follow Pencille. He was unwilling to let the matter drop and wanted the younger man to say sorry for his initial remark when he boarded the train. Camera footage shows both standing face to face once again and gesticulating at each other, the gap between them becoming disquietingly narrow. It is clear from the recording that Pomeroy was much physically larger than Pencille, and both men had dug their heels in and refused to brush off the incident. Pomeroy once again demanded an apology. Neither of them was going to back down. Another passenger, moving past them to a different carriage, was heard by a witness to say, “This is why I hate getting on [expletive] trains.” Shockingly, they had not yet seen the worst of the altercation, and what was to come would make many people view train travel as even less appealing.
Pencille shouted, “You touch me, you touch me, and you see what happens at the next stop. Go on, put your hand on me, I dare you,” perhaps sensing that the argument might become physical. He was then overheard by witness Kayleigh Carter telling his girlfriend on the phone, “I’m gonna kill this man.” Before anyone could react, he drew a knife from his jacket and like a coiled spring being released, stabbed Mr. Pomeroy 18 times in the neck and torso in a sickening attack which took just under 30 seconds. Pencille grabbed his scattered belongings and fled the train at Clandon station, less than five minutes after both men had first set eyes on each other.
By this time, Pomeroy’s son, left behind in the other carriage, had set out to look for his father, and found him sitting in a pool of blood. He had died almost instantly due to a slashed carotid artery. Despite their best efforts, emergency services were powerless to help.
At around 1:15 p.m. witness Rowena Dodwell saw a man meeting Pencille’s description climbing over a fence leading to woodland, apparently in a state of distress, with deep gashes to his knuckles and arms. He noticed Rowena watching him and explained to her that he had just been in an accident. Subsequently, she found a bloodstained hat in a nearby field along with a coat and glasses, all later confirmed to belong to the killer.
Darren Pencille’s girlfriend Chelsea Mitchell picked him up in her car, and around five hours later the couple visited Frensham Ponds near Farnham, Surrey, stopping in the Bacon Lane car park. There, they took photos of his injuries and frantically debated how to proceed. It is possible that he considered turning himself in, but if he did, the idea did not cross his mind for long. Chelsea bought razors and hair clippers that afternoon, clearly intended to alter her boyfriend’s appearance, and they travelled to Pencille’s flat in Bognor Regis, West Sussex, which sits on the southern coastline of England, before returning in the late evening to Chelsea’s home in Farnham, a distance of about 50 miles.
The pair had a sleepless night, turning over in their minds the possible outcomes of the unthinkable situation they were in. But they didn’t have to wait long for an answer. The police had been efficient in their investigation and using CCTV footage, they were able to follow the couple’s movements. At around 6:00 a.m. the next morning, there was a deafening knock on the door. Pencille took a deep breath and peered through the curtains to see armed police swarming outside his girlfriend’s apartment. He had no choice but to open up. As he was handcuffed, he asked, “What’s this about?” as if he had no idea why he was being arrested. He was taken to the police station, interrogated, and charged with the murder of Lee Pomeroy.
The trial began almost six months later, on 25 June 2019. The members of the jury were stunned by the CCTV footage of the frenzied knife attack, which they watched in full. Pomeroy’s bereaved sisters stared at Pencille as he was questioned by the prosecutor, and one of them, Karen Blackaby, sensed that the killer did not like being studied so closely. Darren Pencille did not give evidence but claimed to have been acting in self-defence. As the trial unfolded, it was revealed that he was a diagnosed Paranoid Schizophrenic but had not been taking his medication at the time of the murder. He also suffered from panic attacks when in confined spaces, which frequently caused him to feel the need to get off public transport. Witness Kayleigh Carter described Pencille’s demeanour as “angry” but explained that Pomeroy had been “stern, stubborn, and patronising.” She also heard Pencille make a comment about hearing voices. The victim’s 14-year-old son, who had stumbled on the terrible sight of his father slumped on the floor of the train carriage, soaked in blood, admitted that he had been an intimidating man and sometimes had a “bad attitude,” but that he was never violent.
On 12 July 2019, Justice Cheema-Grubb handed down a life sentence to Darren Pencille, with a minimum of 28 years in prison. It is likely that this was influenced by the fact that he had multiple previous convictions, one of which was for stabbing a friend in the neck. Chelsea Mitchell was sentenced to 28 months for assisting him in evading capture. Justice Cheema-Grubb told Pencille, “You picked on the wrong man,” and stated that when Pomeroy had stood up for himself, Pencille had pulled out a “lethal weapon”.
The case raises questions about the leniency of Pencille’s prior sentences and whether the care he was receiving for his Paranoid Schizophrenia was adequate. Lee Pomeroy’s grief-stricken sister Karen told the Royston Crow newspaper that Pencille was “vicious and aggressive. He has a fascination with knives. I want him to die in prison.” She attested firmly that her brother had not touched his attacker during the dispute about him blocking the aisle, and that Pencille had been the aggressor throughout.
Regardless of the reasons, this senseless stand-off between two men whose paths crossed for mere moments led to loss of life for one, and loss of liberty for the other. Meanwhile, a teenaged boy was forced to come to terms with the prospect of spending the rest of his days without his father, who would not be there to see him grow into adulthood.
- Comeau, Dave, “A complete timeline of the murder of Lee Pomeroy by Darren Pencille”, July 2019, SurreyLive, https://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/surrey-news/what-happened-pencille-pomeroy-murder-16578353
- “Darren Pencille: Lee Pomeroy Guildford train stab attacker jailed for murder”, July 2019, BBC News, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-48967618
- Wild, Bianca, “Royston sister of murdered Lee Pomeroy says vicious killer should die in prison”, July 2019, Royston Crow, https://www.royston-crow.co.uk/news/lee-pomeroy-s-sister-on-murder-trial-5181956