Paranoid schizophrenic shouted ‘I am God!’ after murdering pensioner weeks after mental health support lapsed

Aaron Cook, 23, murdered Bella Nicandro (pictured)  (PA Media)
Aaron Cook, 23, murdered Bella Nicandro (pictured) (PA Media)

A paranoid schizophrenic murdered a 76-year-old woman and screamed "I am God" weeks after his mental health support lapsed, a court has heard.

Aaron Cook, 24, was suffering a psychotic episode when he stabbed neighbour Bella Nicandro inside their shared west London property on August 14 last year, the Old Bailey was told.

People outside were alerted when they saw another neighbour, Faiso Abdiaziz, with her two young children fleeing the building.

Ms Abdiaziz suffered small cuts to her hands as she defended her children from Cook, who had grabbed her four-year-old son and pointed a knife at him in the communal area.

Anthony Orchard KC, prosecuting, said Cook later ran out of the building covered in blood, screaming "I am God, I am God" and "I'm going to do you next" to another neighbour before being knocked down and restrained by passers-by.

Mr Orchard added: "While being restrained the defendant said words to the effect of 'Did you like the way I killed her though', and 'Did you see the way I killed her though?"'

After police arrived at the property in Notting Hill they found Ms Nicandro lying in her top-floor flat with multiple stab wounds to her face, neck, right arm, lower leg and one stab wound under her left armpit. Emergency services were unable to save her.

In November, Cook pleaded guilty to manslaughter due to diminished responsibility. Doctors said it took 14 months for his psychotic symptoms to be brought under control.

He admitted smoking a cannabis joint earlier that day which he believes caused his outburst, but doctors said the drug exacerbated but did not induce his psychotic episode.

Forensic psychiatrist Dr Bradley Hillier said Cook was on the border of having an insanity defence available and that mental health workers had not taken his condition seriously enough in the weeks before the attack.

Dr Hillier told the court: "It is, in my view, a core tenet of psychiatry that if someone is presenting with psychotic beliefs and has a history of treatment in hospital, that when they start talking about bizarre experiences it should be taken seriously.

"Sadly, in this case, Mr Cook's team, in my view, confused capacity with severe mental health disorder and Mr Cook should have had significant treatment by the time this occurred.

"I do not think Mr Cook can be held responsible for that aspect of his care. I do not think he was in a position to realise that he needed help."

Dr Martin Lock agreed that drugs only exacerbated Cook's psychosis but he should bear some responsibility for smoking cannabis recreationally.

Cook had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and sectioned in 2020. He said he believed his psychotic symptoms were because of LSD and cannabis, but doctors said this did not cause but revealed his illness.

In March 2021 he was being seen by an early intervention team and believed people were after him and that he was cursed.

He said he had consumed the heart of the universe and found infinity and that he was getting messages saying he should kill and rape people.

Judge Alexia Durran sectioned Cook on Monday, accepting doctors' evidence that his responsibility was diminished.

She said he had stopped taking his medication not long before the attack because he was "lacking insight into his condition".

Members of Ms Nicandro's family burst into tears on hearing that Cook would receive no prison sentence for his crime.

Judge Durran said to Cook: "No sentence I impose on you will ever feel sufficient to her family who have lost a beloved member in the most appalling circumstances.

"The evidence from both doctors is that you had been experiencing a psychotic episode for some period.

"I am not persuaded there is a need for a penal sentence here. I accept Dr Hillier's evidence that you were close to an insanity defence.

"It will be a matter for the Secretary of State and the mental health tribunal when, if ever, you will be released."