A woman who stabbed a schoolgirl to death in front of her parents in a park on Mother’s Day has been found not guilty of her murder today.
Emily Jones was riding towards her mother in Queen’s Park, Bolton, when Eltiona Skana used a craft knife to slash the seven-year-old’s neck.
The 30-year-old paranoid schizophrenic pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility but was charged with murder.
But on the seventh day of her trial at Manchester Crown Court, the jury was told the prosecution were discontinuing the case.
In a dramatic move, prosecutor Michael Brady QC said there was now no realistic prospect of a conviction and the judge Mr Justice Wall asked the jury to formally return a not guilty verdict.
The court has heard in harrowing detail how Emily’s father thought she had fallen over before realising she had been stabbed, and how he and her mother were forced to watch as paramedics battled to save their daughter’s life.
After her arrest, Skana told doctors: ‘It was premeditated, I waited in a park and picked my victims, I did what I did then tried to run away.’
The prosecution had alleged that Skana planned the killing, buying a knife and selecting a victim in the park and was hiding behind her mental condition.
Skana had arrived in the UK in 2014 after her sister paid an agent to smuggler her via Italy and France, in a lorry. She was initially refused asylum, before being granted to leave to remain in the country.
Emily Jones was killed by Skana as she was riding her scooter through Queen’s Park, Bolton, on Mother’s Day
Floral and cuddly toy tributes to the seven-year-old. Following her death, Emily’s parents paid tribute to her, describing their only child as the ‘light of our lives’
Paranoid schizophrenic was released in the community despite repeated attempts to kill her own family
The court had heard how Skana arrived in the UK in 2014 but was refused asylum by the Home Office in June 2018.
Her sister had paid an agent to take Skana to the UK, via Italy and France in a lorry.
The refusal was later reversed on appeal and she was given a residency permit to remain in the UK until November 2020 and then leave to remain until November 2024.
In 2015, she was sectioned then detained under the Mental Health Act.
In the following years Skana was repeatedly hospitalised but regularly refused treatment and ran away, the court heard.
In 2018 she was deemed well enough to be released into the community.
It also emerged today how Skana had previously been admitted to psychiatric hospitals three times in 2015, 2017 and 2018; stabbing her mother through the hand and hitting her on the head with an iron in one attack and threatening her sister.
In a third incident, she’d gone to the house of friend armed with a knife and asked to see her 13-year-old daughter.
In 2017, Skana said she, ‘cut her hair off rather than cutting off people’s heads,’ the court heard.
She was never prosecuted over the incidents.
Parents pay tribute to ‘light of our lives’ Emily
After Emily died, her parents released a heart wrenching tribute to their seven-year-old daughter.
It read: ‘Emily was seven-years-old, our only child and the light of our lives.
‘She was always full of joy, love and laughter.
‘Emily had such a cheeky smile and was beautiful inside and out. She had a heart as big as her smile.
‘Emily was never happier than when she was spending time with her family and friends, she was our own little social butterfly.
‘Emily had a passion for the outdoors and loved to play any sport, even when she was wearing her pink sparkly dresses.
‘We are beyond devastated that this random act of violence means that we will never get to see our beautiful little girl grow up into the wonderful young lady she was showing such promise of becoming.
‘It is truly heart breaking to wake up to a world without Emily in it and we cannot comprehend why this has happened.
‘We would like to thank the members of the public that assisted us in the park and express our gratitude to the emergency services for doing their upmost to save Emily’s life.
‘Thank you to everyone for their kind messages of support and for continuing to respect our privacy at this difficult time.’
Emily had visited Queen’s Park in Bolton with her father Mark Jones and mother Sarah Barnes on March 22, this year.
Michael Brady QC, prosecuting, said Emily, who’d been doing ‘laps’ on her scooter, spotted her mother in the distance.
She told her father, ‘Daddy, daddy. I want to go to mum’ and she’d scooted off.
Emily also called out to her mother, who didn’t hear her due to distance between them and the fact she was hearing headphones.
The court heard how Skana was sitting on a bench and armed with a craft knife that was one of a pack of three she’d bought earlier that day from a shop in Bolton town centre.
She stood up as Emily rode past her on a scooter and in ‘one movement slit her throat’ with the craft knife and thew her to the ground.
Mr Brady said: ‘Emily’s path towards her mum took her past the defendant who, as Emily scooted by, grabbed her and in one movement slit her throat with the craft knife and then threw her to the ground.
‘There had been no interaction between Emily and the defendant. The wound was unsurvivable and Emily died shortly after.’
Emily’s father had seen a person on the bench standing over his daughter but assumed Emily had fallen off her scooter and was being helped up.
But he’d then heard a woman shout: ‘She’s been stabbed’.
He went to Emily and saw she was bleeding from the neck and tried to comfort her, before a member of the public handed him his shirt to try and stem the flow of blood from Emily’s neck.
A woman, believed to be a trained nurse, took over first aid and by this stage Mr Jones was ‘frantic’.
Emily’s ‘inconsolable’ mother then arrived and watched as paramedics who’d been called to scene as they battled to try to save their daughter.
But Emily had suffered a cardiac arrested and was airlifted to Salford Royal hospital, where was pronounced dead shortly before 4pm.
Prior to the attack, which happened around 2.15pm, a woman – believed to be Skana – had been spotted in the park by a witness who described her as as looking ‘agitated’ and with a ‘vacant’ look on her face.
Skana ran off still armed with the knife but at some point placed it in her backpack, where it was later recovered.
Mr Brady said a passer-by, Tony Canty, who been out for a walk with his wife and daughter witnessed Skana ‘manhandling’ and ‘screaming’ at Emily and pushing her to the ground.
Skana screamed: ‘She tried to kill me.’
She then repeated it as she ran past Mr Canty.
At that stage, Mr Canty ‘had no idea how serous the situation was, he hadn’t seen a knife and didn’t realise that Emily had been fatally wounded,’ Mr Brady said.
But he was ‘sufficiently’ concerned to run after Skana, with his wife shouting after him that she had a knife.
He briefly lost sight of Skana but soon caught up with her and either ‘barged or pushed’ her to the ground.
Skana fell on to her back and Mr Canty was able to detain her until the police arrived.
Mr Brady said that as Mr Canty sat on top Skana she started rambling about the ‘Home Office, her family and that he had killed ‘the girl.’
When Mr Canty telephoned and told them that a young girl had been involved, Skana responded: ‘I’m a girl, I’m a child.’
Psychiatric experts had told the jury that she had a history of mental illness, had paranoid schizophrenia and had killed Emily in a psychotic episode.
Michael Brady QC, prosecuting, had told jurors the main issue was whether Skana’s paranoid schizophrenia was the reason behind the killing of Emily or if her illness was simply ‘a convenient excuse behind which to hide?’
Emily had visited Queen’s Park in Bolton (pictured, police at the park after the killing) with her father Mark Jones and mother Sarah Barnes on March 22, this year
Skana admitted killing was ‘premeditated’
The prosecution alleged that Skana intended to murder Emily while her defence argued the killing was caused by her mental illness.
Following the killing, Skana was detained under the Mental Health Act and admitted to Rampton Hospital.
She told a clinician at the hospital how she heard ‘all sorts of voices’ and while watching a TV programme she’d laughed ‘hysterically’ after seeing a child who looked similar to Emily.
Skana believed her mental illness was due to the treatment she’d received since arriving in the UK and told the clinician: ‘I was perfectly normal with no mental health problem before coming to the UK’
She later told him: ‘I was injected and made into a psychopath’ and, ‘I was completely fine before I came to this country, I was educated at University and you and the Home Office have done this to me for six years.’
When asked about the killing, she told another member of staff: ‘It was premeditated, I waited in a park and picked my victims, I did what I did then tried to run away.’
Skana blamed ‘psychosis’ for Emily’s killing, saying she was ‘hearing voices on the day.’
But she’d previously denied hearing voices at the time of the killing when she was initially assessed by a psychiatrist after being arrested.
The court heard that in the months leading up to Emily’s killing Skana had been taking a tablet form of anti-psychosis medication, instead of the injections she’d received previously, as it made her ‘less paranoid’.
But when one consultant psychiatrist spoke to Skana’s sister she admitted the medication was taken ‘sporadically.’
The court heard that Dr Crosby, a prosecution instructed psychiatrist, and Dr Whitworth, a psychiatrist for the defence, agreed that at the time Skana was suffering from an ‘acute psychotic episode’ caused by her ‘paranoid schizophrenia’.
But Mr Brady told the jury that Skana had murdered Emily given her ‘clear intent’.
He added that Skana was aware of her condition and did not feel responsible for her actions, something she had ‘tried to manipulate and play upon’
But Dr Crosby told the court that Skana had a partial defence to murder as she was suffering an abnormality of mental functioning which was likely to have substantially impaired rational judgement and her ability to exhibit self control.
He said she would perceived herself to be ‘under threat’ and was having a psychotic episode at the time of the killing.
Asked whether Skana could have selected to attack Emily, he said: ‘In my opinion it could have been anyone who came into contact with her at that point.
‘There is no evidence that Emily Jones was singled out for any particular reason.’
Today, the prosecution barrister told the jury that the Crown Prosecution Service would no longer pursue a murder charge and asked them to find Skana not guilty of that offence.
Speaking to the jury, he said the prosecution had decided that was ‘no longer any realistic prospect of conviction’ for murder.
‘This is not a decision that has been taken lightly by the Crown,’ he said.
‘It’s a decision taken with care and mindful of the sensitivity of this case.’
He explained that the decision to drop the charge had come following evidence from Dr Saifullah Syed Afghan – a consultant forensic psychiatrist who is treating Skana at Rampton Hospital.
He told the court he had no ‘alternative’ explanation for her actions on March 22, aside from previous explanations of psychosis brought on by her diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia.
The jury then found Skana not guilty of murder.
The sentencing for manslaughter is expected to take place next Tuesday.
A CPS Spokesperson said: ‘The CPS has a duty to keep cases under continuing review and, following a further review, we concluded there was no longer sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction for a murder charge.
‘Eltiona Skana pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, and will be sentenced for that offence at a later date.
‘We met with Emily’s family earlier today to explain the reasons for our decision. This is a very tragic case and all our thoughts are with them at this time.’
The seven-year-old had been riding to meet her mother when the defendant sprang from a bench, grabbed her and cut her throat with a craft knife she had bought that morning. Pictured, officers at the scene