'I didn’t know whether it was a human being or a wild animal'

Evelyn Birchall, 88
Evelyn Birchall, 88
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A courageous pensioner dragged from her bed has told how she bravely stood up to a burglar who beat her black and blue.

Evelyn Birchall, 88, suffered a terrifying and brutal attack in the dead of night at her home in Chorley at the hands of Andrew Hodgkinson.

Hodgkinson 36, of Ullswater Road, Chorley, is today beginning a jail term of six years and eight months after admitting the robbery in August.

Speaking of her ordeal ahead of his sentencing yesterday, Evelyn, who had just turned in for the night at her sheltered housing complex, said she woke up to find Hodkingson in her bedroom.

She said: “I thought I was dreaming, something started pummelling into me, it felt like a dozen arms. I lifted my arms up and realised I wasn’t asleep, it was actually happening but it was pitch dark.

“I was fighting back, I didn’t know whether it was a human being or a wild animal.”

After hitting her, he dragged Evelyn out of bed and threw her across her bedroom. “I didn’t pass out but I saw stars,” said Evelyn. “I was lying on my back and he stood astride me and leaned right down to me and said, ‘Do you know me’, I said ‘No’. ‘Are you sure?’ he said and I said ‘Yes, and I don’t want to.’

“I said, ‘What do you want?’, he said ‘I want you’. I said ‘what’ and he said, ‘I want you’.

“I had a horrible feeling I was going to be raped but I was wrong, he did not mean that because almost immediately he said, ‘Tell me where your purse and your money is.’

When Evelyn told the man that she did not have any cash in the house, he left her and began ransacking another room.

Evelyn, who was once a secretary to rugby legend Bill Beaumont, said: “I thought, I’m not going to sit here and just let him stroll through like some surveyor inspecting property, so I followed him.

“He was rooting around, throwing things into the bag. He turned round and stood over me. Then he shouted right in my face, ‘I want your purse and I want your money’. I thought, right I’ll shout back, I said, ‘I have no purse and I have no money and I wouldn’t give it to you if I had’.

“I didn’t care what he did. He got hold of me and threw me so viciously, I skidded along the wooden floor and out into the hall.

“When I could feel myself coming round, I sensed him just striding over me so slow as though he had all the time in the world. He must have been on the way out so I lay for a while.”

When she was sure the man had left, Evelyn then crawled round to her next door neighbour’s house. They alerted emergency services.

Evelyn then spent the night at the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary in Wigan where she underwent head and chest scans. The next morning her daughter Larraine Hilton was able to take her to her home.

Evelyn had suffered severe bruising and spent the next few days recovering from her shock, unable to eat properly.

“The worst part that I can’t get out of my mind was wakening with the realisation that I wasn’t dreaming, that something bad was really happening and I didn’t know what it was,” said Evelyn. “It was the most frightening moment I’ve ever had. Imagine waking up in your sleep at night in the dark, fighting something and not knowing what it is.”

Larraine, 65 added: “Her stomach’s been in a real knot.”

But Evelyn, a keen reader who gets through at least six novels a week and who uses a scooter to get round Chorley, is determined not to allow the experience to ruin her independence.

“I’m not being driven out of my home,” she said. “If I left my home now, I feel like I would be letting my neighbours down.

“I won’t be beaten by scum like him. I’m quite capable of managing on my own.”

Evelyn, who also has a son Peter, 67, said that although the burglar went off with jewellery he did not manage to discover her most prized possessions, including the engagement and eternity ring that her late husband Alan, a Chorley fireman, bought her.

Alan sadly died of a heart attack on Christmas Day morning in 1991 as the family were exchanging gifts.

Evil Hodgkinson will only be released from jail when a parole board deems he is safe.

Recorder David Potter, sitting at Preston Crown Court, found him to be a dangerous offender and imposed an extended licence of three years on top of his prison term.

Hodgkinson attacked Evelyn Birchall and ransacked her Chorley home, tearing the blaring alarm box from the wall and vandalising her pictures.

Prosecuting, David Traynor told the court: “She describes him as being vicious.

“He pulled everything off the bed and threw it across the bedroom, and that resulted in Mrs Birchall landing on the floor. She was unable to get up without support.

“She was forced to crawl across the floor to the bed to get up, but as she managed to get to her feet the defendant returned into the room and pushed her, causing her to fall.”

The pensioner managed to get up and follow him into another room where he was tipping all her jewellery into a bag and demanded her purse.

Violent Hodgkinson then threw her across the room with such force she slid into a corridor and was knocked out.

When she came to, the courageous pensioner was worried for her disabled sister, who lives in the same complex, and her elderly neighbours.

The court heard the robber callously left her on the floor.

At 12.40am, she managed to crawl to a neighbour’s home in the dark for help.

Hodgkinson left his fingerprints and footprints at the scene and was arrested hours later at his home after a public appeal - with the stolen goods recovered.

He pleaded guilty to robbery and driving while disqualified.

Addressing Hodgkinson, who rubbed his head in his hands in the dock, Recorder Potter said: “You bent right down and said: ‘I want you.’

“That was for Mrs Birchall a horrific moment, a moment when she, albeit only for a second, thought that she was going to be raped.

“Almost immediately you demanded to know where her purse and money was.

“She told you she didn’t and wouldn’t have any money until she collected her pension.

“She screamed at you, telling you she hadn’t got a purse and that infuriated you yet further.

“You grabbed hold of Mrs Birchall and threw her as hard as you could. She was propelled into the hallway.

“She passed out for a few seconds, Even then, displaying remarkable fortitude, her only concern was for her sister who lives in the same complex.

“It was undoubtedly a truly terrifying ordeal for Evelyn Birchall.”

Welcoming the sentence, Detective Inspector Warren Atkinson, of South CID, said: “This was a brutal and sustained assault on an elderly lady in her own home.

“The violence used on this vulnerable woman simply beggars belief and it is a miracle she was not more seriously injured.

“In 27 years of service I have never witnessed such levels of gratuitous violence.”

And Det Insp Warren Atkinson, of South CID, said it was some of the worst violence he had seen: “This was a brutal and sustained assault on an elderly lady in her own home. The violence used on this vulnerable woman simply beggars belief and it is a miracle she was not more seriously injured. In 27 years of service, I have never witnessed such levels of gratuitous violence.”