A CONVICTED child killer suffered skull fractures in an unprovoked prison hammer attack, a court was told.

Long-term inmate Richard Kenneth Tunstall, who has a history of serious violence against fellow prisoners, carried out the sudden assault on Darren Vickers as both were working in a workshop at Frankland Prison, Durham.

The city’s crown court was told 33-year-old Tunstall has been behind bars since a conviction for burglary at the age of 15.

Concerned he may re-offend on his release due to becoming institutionalised, he has remained in prison following a series of convictions for assaults on other inmates, including a slash attack and several incidents of throwing boiling water at victims.

But he also assisted another inmate in the killing of an elderly multiple murderer after locking him in his cell at Full Sutton Prison, near York, in September 2005, for which he received a life sentence with a recommendation that he could not apply for parole for five years, in December 2006.

Tony Cornberg, prosecuting, said Tunstall carried out the latest attack while working on an item of furniture in the upholstery workshop, at Frankland, on February 2.

He earlier signed for tools from the work store, but, shortly after 10am, suddenly walked across the workshop floor, approached Vickers from behind, and repeatedly struck him over the head with a hammer.

When prison officers approached to restrain him he fell to his knees and placed his hands behind his head.

Vickers was taken to hospital suffering a triple skull fracture and two broken bones in a hand, caused by trying to fend off the blows.

Tunstall later told police he was fearful of release from prison, but claimed he carried out the attack “on the spur of the moment” after hearing the other inmate laughing.

Vickers was jailed for life in 1999 for the 1997 abduction and killing of an eight-year-old boy, parts of whose body were only found in a wood near Stockport, Greater Manchester, two years later.

Mr Cornberg said: "The defendant told the officers he wanted to teach him a lesson as he was in prison for punishment, not for laughing.”

Jonathan Cousins, mitigating, told the court: “He’s been locked up since the age of 15 and had no adult life outside custody.

“He has made progress after each conviction, before re-offending and throwing it away.

“He said he feels well and is a reasonable man 99-per cent of the time, but then becomes self-destructive, nihilistic and feels like he doesn’t care about anything, using violence as he feels appropriate.”

Tunstall, who admitted wounding with intent, was given a further life sentence.

Judge Brian Forster, who said he poses a high risk of re-offending, recommended it should be at least another five years before he can apply for release on parole.