Rustington machete attack victim comes forward: 'I lost a lot of blood. It was horrifying"

Tom Rowland with his puppy JB. Picture: Kate Shemilt
Tom Rowland with his puppy JB. Picture: Kate Shemilt

The victim of a machete attack that shocked Rustington on Christmas Eve has spoken out about the ordeal.

When Tom Rowland visited Rustington on Christmas Eve, he was looking forward to reuniting with friends he had not seen since his home was burnt down.

Armed police at the scene of the machete attack in Lawrence Avenue, Rustington, on Christmas Eve. Picture: Eddie Mitchell

Armed police at the scene of the machete attack in Lawrence Avenue, Rustington, on Christmas Eve. Picture: Eddie Mitchell

But festive cheer turned into terror when he was hit with a machete, leaving him with grievous injuries.

The man charged with his attempted murder, his neighbour Finlay Finlayson, died in Lewes Prison on January 28 before the case went to trial.

Now, Mr Rowland, 46, has spoken to the Gazette about what happened that day, and how he felt let down by the system.

He said: “The last few months have been a nightmare, but the lack of help and support has been absolutely ridiculous.”

The murder attempt

On the day of the incident, Mr Rowland’s former neighbours had invited him back to Lawrence Avenue to receive Christmas cards and presents, he said.

He went outside to get his mobile phone from his car when he said he felt a ‘wack’ on his head and span around to see Finlayson swinging a machete down on him.

Mr Rowland said he raised his forearm to defend himself and the blade got wedged in the bone, giving him enough time to punch him.

He said: “The only reason I could knock him out was because he kept yanking on it to get it out. It was the only time I had to swing.”

Armed police descended soon after, and Finlayson was shot with a rubber bullet and arrested.

Mr Rowland said: “I lost a lot of blood. It was horrifying.”

"I am trying to build a new life"

The injured musician was rushed to Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, where he spent Christmas Day. He still has a scar and a broken bone in his arm – but the emotional trauma following the attack has been harder to deal with, he said.

Now living in Argyle Road, Bognor Regis, he felt Arun District Council’s housing department and the police had not done enough to support him.

“I am trying to build a new life, but if it was not for my puppy I don’t know if I would have made it,” he said.

When he discovered Mr Finlayson had died, he said he felt ‘very angry’ that he ‘did not get any sort of justice’.

Mr Rowland also claimed that he and his neighbours had asked Arun and police several times to move Mr Finlayson, to no avail.

He said: “We phoned them so many times, and they ignored us. Everybody looked at me to clean up the area and I tried my best, but it cost me everything.”

Police and council respond

The authorities involved in Tom Rowland’s case have responded to his concerns.

Sussex Police said they ‘had every sympathy for the victim, who was viciously attacked’. A spokesman said: “Initial reports were that there were three people involved in the attack. Two suspects were arrested soon after the incident.

“An investigation led to the charge of one suspect for attempted murder. The victim was not able to say whether the other suspect had taken part in the assault on him so she was released under investigation.

"The third person, whose actual involvement in the incident was described as minor by the victim, was not identified.”

When police were told of the death of Finlay Finlayson, 54, they spoke with Mr Rowland and explained that the case would be filed as ‘the person who committed the offence had passed away’.

They said: “We were aware of some reports of incidents in relation to both parties in Lawrence Avenue prior to this incident, and each report was investigated and recorded and led to multi agency involvement between Sussex Police, social services and the local authority.

“Anyone who has any concerns about crime in their area can contact us.”

Arun District Council said: “The council actively worked with other agencies to address the issues raised at the time. We now consider the matter closed.”