A man who hit a woman over the head with a branch in an unprovoked attack as she was out walking her dog has been committed to hospital indefinitely.

Joseph Eccles, 54, was homeless when he launched two unprovoked attacks on women who were out walking their dogs.

Preston Crown Court heard how on November 5, 2021, a woman was walking her dogs down the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in the direction of Barrowford Locks when she came across Eccles.

When he walked towards her, he was forcing her to walk closer to the edge of the canal.

Prosecutor Martyn Walsh said: “As they passed one another, Mr Eccles flung his arms in her direction.

“She believes he was trying to push her in the canal.”

The following day, another woman was out walking her dogs near Slipper Hill Road in Colne, when a topless Eccles shouted abuse about one of her dogs.

She asked him to stop but he didn't and she became ‘extremely concerned and terrified’ and started walking away.

Mr Walsh added: “As she continued to try and get away, he jumped over a fence while carrying a blue tent.

“He was shouting that he would attack her.

“The woman was terrified at this point. She saw him run towards her, he picked up a large branch.

“She turned her back and Eccles hit her with the branch to the back of her head which causes the branch to snap.

“She fell to the ground and held her head. The pain made her feel as though her head would explode.”

One witness said the woman was hit three times while another witness ran to the woman’s aid and told police there was so much blood he thought the woman had been stabbed in the neck.

She needed several stitches to repair the wound, however, she describes the event as having a huge effect on her mental health.

Reading her victim impact statement to the court, the woman said: “I do not understand why he did what he did.

“I have walked the canals and I want to do that extra part but I am unable to do so.

“You never think that something like this will happen to you but it has happened to me.

“I just keep thinking when will this nightmare end for me and in all honestly, I don’t think it ever will.”

Upon his arrest, Eccles denied both offences saying the police and authorities were ‘setting him up’.

On the first day of his trial he pleaded guilty to common assault and wounding.

Offering mitigaton, Mark Brooks said Eccles was suffering with paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the offence, and he is still suffering with it now but is receiving the care he needs.

Mr Brooks said since his time in a mental health facility, Eccles is ‘willing to engage’ and is ‘compliant with staff’.

He said: “The offence clearly took place at a time when the defendant was suffering from a mental illness.

“That mental illness as been stabilised and is being addressed by treatment and his willingness to engage.”

Judge Simon Medland KC said that Eccles was a ‘serious threat’, especially to lone women and he had no option but to sentence him to a hospital order which will be in place until he is deemed ‘safe’ to be released.

If he is released, he must abide by conditions or he could be immediately recalled.