Axe attack father: Cannabis ruined my son

Dad-of-two John Butler has worked in some of the world's most gang-ravaged countries and knows full-well the impact drugs and weapons can have on communities.

So the security adviser, who has worked in Iraq and Afghanistan, was horrified when his son Anthony Butler became mixed up in Preston's drugs world and eventually in more sinister crimes.

Yesterday the 18-year-old, who once dreamed of being a businessman, was jailed for seven years for an aggravated burglary in which a hotel guest was attacked with an axe.

Speaking after the case, John said: "If you lie down with dogs you are going to get fleas. It is bad news, but the real bad news started when he first got arrested for smoking cannabis.

"Once he took that path we couldn't get him off it. And it will happen to hundreds of others his age."

As a teenager Anthony attended Christ the King Catholic High School in Frenchwood, but was excluded for an alleged bullying incident at 12, and his parents eventually tried to move him to another school. That was unsuccessful and he never returned to school.

The following year the teenager confessed to his parents he had taken cannabis.

John, who lives on The Green in Ribbleton, says: "Some older lads had been giving him cannabis to smoke at the back of shops when he was about 13. Before then he was a good lad.

"After he tried it, another lad started giving him packages to deliver to pay for his cannabis. It frightens the life out of me that these drugs are so easily available to kids."

John watched helplessly as his son was sucked in by dealers in the city and, despite trying to take a stand with him, keeping Anthony under control became increasingly difficult.

He says: "The rules were if he smoked anything and I smelt it on him he would be disciplined. He didn't like this and constantly rebelled.

"He ran away and was reported missing several times. He would sleep rough in parks. His photograph had to be circulated in the press."

Concerned at the potential impact on their younger daughter, John and his wife Marcelle asked Anthony to leave home when he was 16.

He enrolled on a business course at Preston College, but John says: "Unfortunately, by this time he was already too involved, nipping out of college on drugs runs."

John adds: "Everything that's going on is linked to drugs. You can walk around the city and see people on pushbikes waiting for a phone call.

" One gang will distract the police with their activities so the others can deal on another estate.

"It does bother me that other people view Anthony as being in a gang – but most of all I'm disappointed in the way my son's behaving."

Anthony's involvement in crime eventually became more sinister. The couple were distraught when officers mounted two raids on their home.

The pressure led to the breakdown of their relationship.

John, who is currently off work for health reasons, says: "I still believe the axe attack boils down to drugs and venturing on to other people's 'area's'.

"As strange as this sounds, Anthony has good leadership qualities but he is using them in the wrong way.

"He is not frightened to be in prison. I think these kids are becoming institutionalised.

"I have tried to put ideas into his head for what he can do when he gets out. He has worked in the past in call centres and other places but the police have turned up when he's done something and he's been out of the door.

"I have been to see him three times while he has been on remand. I get on with him but just don't agree with what he's doing.

"But I also think locking him up isn't going to sort out the problems that are going on."

Detectives say Butler and his friend Nathan McManus are believed to be members of a Fishwick gang, despite coming from Ribbleton.

But Nathan's mum Mandy, a full-time carer from the Moor Park area of Preston, says the pair had only known each other a couple of weeks.

The mum-of-two says she was stunned when she learned police were searching for Nathan and blames his grief at losing three close members of family within nine months.

The 46-year-old, who is separated from Nathan's dad Chris, says: "At the time this happened Nathan had lost his way. He was grieving for three close relatives – his auntie, his nan and his cousin.

"He was living with a friend in Chorley to get away from Preston."

Nathan, who has two step brothers and a half brother, grew up in Ribbleton and attended Longridge High School.

He was keen on sports and, though he was not a perfect student, his family say he worked hard.

He had intended to go in the Army at 16 but his parents urged him to wait until 18. By this time he decided to qualify as a plumber and had begun an apprenticeship.

Mandy says: "The fact he did have something going for him makes it harder.

"The rumours he is in a gang upsets me, because I know he isn't. How can you be involved in a gang when you work 40 hours a week? He has lost his way, become mixed up in the wrong crowd and is still trying to grieve.

"We knew he was not coping when he started to drink and smoke."

She added: "When I last saw him he said he had got into a mess with people he shouldn't have been with and didn't know. I feel like he didn't want to approach me while he was grieving.

"The first I knew of the attack was when police knocked on my door demanding to know where he was. He was later found in hospital. He even pulled his drip out to go and hand himself in."

Duo jailed for hotel axe attack