Drunk father 'smothered sick son in mercy killing'

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A drunken father who smothered his terminally ill son to death with a pillow told his wife to go away from the family home before telephoning her in tears to tell her what he had done, a court heard yesterday.

Andrew Wragg killed his son Jacob, 10, who had the degenerative condition Hunter syndrome, on 24 July last year Mr Wragg, 36, a former soldier, denies murdering Jacob at their home in Worthing, West Sussex, but admits manslaughter on the ground of diminished responsibility.

Philip Katz QC, for the prosecution, told the jury at Lewes Crown Court that Mr Wragg had told police the death of his son had been a "mercy killing". Mr Wragg, who now lives in Wimbledon, south London, was more than three and a half times the legal limit for driving at the time of the killing, he added. Mr Katz said Jacob would have died young but that he was not at "death's door". On 24 July, Mr Wragg had been out drinking and rang to speak to his wife some time before 7pm. "He started to talk about Jacob, which made Mary emotional," Mr Katz said. "He said he had looked into Jacob's eyes and saw that Jacob had no future."

A few hours later, Mr Wragg called his wife again and asked her to take their other son out of the house, the court was told. She was on her way to her mother's and had stopped at the garage when the defendant rang again. "He said, 'I've done it'," Mr Katz said, adding: "He was saying he was going to call the police. Mary said he should wait for her to get home." Mrs Wragg found her husband by Jacob's bed cuddling him, Mr Katz said. "She could see Jacob was dead. She said, 'Please tell me you didn't hurt him'. He replied angrily: 'Of course I didn't hurt him'. The defendant at one point gave a toast to Jacob and said, in reference to their unborn child, he's with him now." The jury had been told earlier that Mrs Wragg had been pregnant with another child, diagnosed with the same disease, and had an abortion.

Mr Katz told the jury that after Mr Wragg had been arrested, he told officers: "Please don't judge me until you know the true facts. It was a mercy killing."

Mr Katz said Mr Wragg's understandable emotions were not a justification for murder. "The prosecution case on the issue of diminished responsibility is that whilst Wragg may have been feeling disappointment, sadness, loss, fear and anger and whilst those emotions may have been reasonable and understandable, they were not a mental illness," he said.

Mr Katz suggested that Mrs Wragg was largely responsible for the day to day care of their son. "Wragg was drinking too much and spending time away from home. The prosecution say that this defendant had distanced himself from Jacob and we say that this was a selfish killing, done in drink, possibly as a way out of a situation he felt was too difficult to put up with," he said.

Dr James Wraith, a consultant paediatrician at the Royal Manchester Hospital said severe Hunter syndrome sufferers such as Jacob would become deaf, dumb, possibly blind and unable to breathe with double incontinence.

Dr Wraith told Michael Sayers QC, for the defence, that Jacob's condition would have steadily deteriorated. "Before the end there would be good days and bad days," he said, "but as a child gets worse there are more bad days than good."

Mr Sayers said that in August 2001, Mrs Wragg had told staff at Chestnut Tree House that if Jacob, who nearly died from pneumonia in 1999, collapsed he should not be resuscitated.

The case continues.