A former SAS soldier who admitted killing his terminally ill son because of the trauma of working in Baghdad has been cleared of murder.
Andrew Wragg, 38, said he suffocated 10-year-old Jacob, as a mercy killing but denied murder. He said he wanted to spare the severely handicapped boy any further suffering from the rare genetic disorder Hunter syndrome, which condemns its victims to a vegetative state.
Wragg was yesterday given a two-year suspended jail term after a jury at Lewes Crown Court found him not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter. An earlier jury had been unable to reach a verdict.
The jury heard from defence psychiatrists that Wragg had been suffering from a temporary abnormality brought on by the stresses of his job as a private security guard in Iraq, problems with his marriage and the condition of his son. Consultant forensic scientist Dr Nicholas Wright said Wragg had clearly been shell-shocked on his return from Iraq and started to drink heavily to deal with the stress.
Wragg was three-and-a-half times over the drink-drive limit when he killed Jacob. He had ordered his wife, Mary, to leave their home in Worthing, West Sussex, and take their other son, George, to her mother's for the night. In moving testimony he told how he went to Jacob, who was asleep in bed, stroked his hair and "tried to explain" before killing him and dialling 999. When his wife returned, he said, she asked: "You didn't hurt him?" and then poured both of them a glass of wine and drank a toast to Jacob.
Mrs Wragg, who is now divorced, gave evidence over three days, clutching pictures of Jacob and claiming that her ex-husband was a drunken, womanising father who could not cope with looking after a severely handicapped child.
The court heard that days before the killing, Wragg had broken down as he watched the film Lorenzo's Oil, about a couple's struggle to cope with a disabled child. A few days later, he said, he looked into the eyes of Jacob and sensed his son wanted him to take action in what Dr Wright said was a defining moment as Wragg verged on delusional.
In sentencing Wragg, Mrs Justice Anne Rafferty said she intended to send a "resounding message" that Jacob's death had not been a mercy killing but a "deed done by a man suffering from diminished responsibility".
"Mitigating factors are your belief that what you did was an act of mercy, that you reacted to stress you found insupportable, and that you have, from the moment you telephoned the police, admitted what you did," she told an impassive Wragg.
"[The defence] told the jury that you took your son's life as he stood at the gates of his last dreadful journey. No words could better have caught the mixed tragedies with which I have to grapple. For all the reasons I have set out your case seems to me exceptional. That being so, I consider that there is nothing to be gained by taking from you your liberty."
The judge also rejected claims by Mrs Wragg that she was unaware of her husband's plans and she had taken her other son away in the expectation that she was to have a night of intimacy with the defendant.
Judge Rafferty said to Wragg, of his former wife: "One would have to be quite remarkably naive to accept that this dedicated and experienced mother behaved in that way solely so as to enjoy an evening of prolonged intimacy.
"I have no doubt she was complicit. Had I concluded otherwise I should have formed a harsher view of you. I accept that you would not have taken Jacob's life had you, for a moment, thought that she disagreed with what you were to do."
Speaking after the hearing, Mrs Wragg, who was wearing a lock of hair on her jumper believed to be Jacob's, said she was shocked by the sentence.
She said: "This case was never about Jacob's quality of life. Jacob never judged his own life. He wasn't aware he was different or less able in any way. It has been extremely difficult to sit and listen as the dignity of my little boy has been destroyed in an effort to reduce the impact of his death.
"Jacob's condition has been used as an excuse for this crime and I find it appalling that anyone would try and portray him as being less deserving of his life or less entitled to enjoy every precious moment his condition allowed."
Wragg's father, Bob, said: "We would now ask that we are at last allowed to grieve for the loss of Jacob, who we all loved dearly." Wragg declined to comment as he left court before driving away with his new girlfriend.Reuse content