Gulf War veteran murdered ex-lover

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A former SAS trooper and Gulf War veteran who murdered his ex-lover with an AK47 he smuggled out of Iraq was jailed for life yesterday. Dr Thomas Shanks, an anaesthetist, shot Vickie Fletcher, a 21-year-old nurse, at a pub in Castleford, West Yorkshire, where she was with her new boyfriend.

"I loved the girl so much my emotions took over from my common sense," said Shanks. "Sheer unadulterated emotion, allied to a bit of alcohol" led him to kill her.

Shanks, now 49, was the youngest soldier for 10 years to join the SAS in the late 1960s and was mentioned in dispatches for saving wounded soldiers in southern Oman.

After an earlier trial a jury failed to reach a verdict. The second jury took 10 hours to convict him on a 10-2 majority at Sheffield Crown Court.

Mr Justice Jowitt called Shanks' plea of manslaughter spurious. The ex-trooper claimed he was suffering Gulf War Syndrome possibly caused by inoculations against the nerve gas Sarin and other chemicals when he served as an anaesthetist in the 1991 war.

Mr Justice Jowitt said: "You were brave, and unhappy and jealous enough when you put together the gun and loaded the magazine. You knew what you were doing."

In two bursts of fire from the Kalashnikov, which he had cleaned and placed in his car with an axe, knife and baseball bat before hunting his victim in May 1998, shaven-headed Shanks unleashed 15 bullets on Ms Fletcher. Ten hit her, as she tried to flee from the pub.

It was like "watching a video film" and the bullets sounded like firecrackers, said Shanks. "I could see nothing except her back and her running."

Ms Fletcher was dying on a pavement as he walked slowly to his car, put the gun inside and drove away. She died two hours later in the hospital where they worked. He went to Birmingham intending to see his daughter, then to Scotland where he gave himself up outside a telephone box.

Shanks' improbable relationship with Ms Fletcher began when she was an 18-year-old nurse. Both were at Pontefract General Infirmary, West Yorkshire. Their affair was punctuated by violent, public rows. Once, a near-naked Shanks was seen restraining an hysterical Ms Fletcher in the staff accommodation block.

He escaped with a warning but clashes with other nurses led to a suspension for him and, eventually, a final written warning. Charges of assaulting Ms Fletcher and another nurse were withdrawn.

He said he could accept her series of affairs with other men, including two patients, during their relationship. But her relationship with David Griffin, a seriously ill 48-year-old who walks with a stick, was too much. Two weeks after splitting up with Shanks over what he called a tiff, Ms Fletcher spent three nights before she died at Mr Griffin's Castleford home.

At Shanks' first trial, he was sentenced to 12 years for possessing the AK47 with intent to endanger life and nine years for possessing it without authority. He admitted both offences.

During that trial, he described patching up a wounded soldier and later visiting the field hospital to find that he had survived - a defining experience. "It struck me then that there's a lot more to be gained by repairing people rather than killing them," he said.

Detective Chief Superintendent Paul Johnston later said Shanks had been "a very courageous man in his time, particularly in the SAS", adding: "It's a terrible shame courage did not see him through."