Afghanistan veteran who stabbed neighbours ‘stressed since returning to UK’

·4-min read

The wife of a former soldier who stabbed his two neighbours to death said he had been struggling with his mental health since returning from Afghanistan, a court has heard.

Ex-Royal Engineer Collin Reeves, 35, is on trial at Bristol Crown Court for the murder of Jennifer Chapple, 33, and her husband, 36-year-old teacher Stephen Chapple.

Reeves forced his way into the couple’s home in Dragon Rise, Norton Fitzwarren, near Taunton in Somerset, on the evening of November 21 last year.

He stabbed them both six times in a minute-long attack using the ceremonial dagger he had been given when he left the Army in December 2017.

Norton Fitzwarren murders
Floral tributes left near the scene at Dragon Rise in Norton Fitzwarren (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Reeves, who had been working as a lorry driver, then returned to his own home to call the police and tell them what he had done.

When officers arrived at the scene, the couple’s children were still asleep upstairs.

Reeves had been involved in a dispute with the couple since the previous May over designated parking on the new-build housing development.

The defendant has admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, claiming he was suffering from an abnormality of mental functioning, but denies murder.

In a video-taped police interview given in the days after the killing, Reeves’ wife of 10 years Kayley said he had been struggling with his mental health and “bottled things up”.

She said he had not been the same since returning from Afghanistan in 2009.

Mrs Reeves said her husband had taken their two daughters to see the Christmas lights being switched on during the afternoon of the killings.

“I was upset in the bedroom because we hadn’t been getting on lately and weren’t talking, he put the girls to bed and came into my bedroom,” she told a police officer.

Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Collin Reeves in the dock at Bristol Crown Court
Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Collin Reeves in the dock at Bristol Crown Court (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

“I was telling him to go away and stuff and I said maybe we should have a trial separation for two weeks to see how we go, I was in a bad place, I had just found out my brother had been diagnosed with cancer.”

She continued: “I was downstairs for a while, I was upstairs watching telly, it must have been around 8.45pm I heard screaming.”

Mrs Reeves said the ceremonial dagger was missing from the picture frame where it was usually displayed.

“I phoned Lynn (Reeves’ mother) and said ‘Come round, I think he’s gone next door and stabbed them’.”

Mrs Reeves said: “He’s got mental problems, he told me his head’s not in the right place. He hasn’t been the same since he got back from (Afghanistan).

“About two or three weeks ago we had a heart to heart, he said his head’s not in the right place. He has thoughts like, if he wasn’t here, would I be better off? It’s just he needs help.”

She said Reeves would be more agitated and stressed since returning from Afghanistan more than a decade before.

“He just bottles it up and never talks about his feelings,” Mrs Reeves said.

Norton Fitzwarren murders
The Reeves and the Chapples were neighbours on Dragon Rise in Norton Fitzwarren near Taunton (PA)

“I know this time of year is really hard for him ‘cause it’s Remembrance Sunday, that triggers it off.”

She continued: “Every time when someone died they’d say that poem, it always got to him.”

The witness added: “He just says his thoughts, he’s not right, he thinks I would be better off without him, I wouldn’t, I love him.”

Mrs Reeves said that she and her husband had “pinky promised” he would go and see a doctor in two weeks’ time if he was still feeling down, adding: “It was too late.”

She said that the family had previously had a good relationship with the Chapples, but that it had deteriorated when they got a second car and it obstructed Reeves’ parking space.

Mrs Reeves said Mrs Chapple had responded by telling them “you don’t own the road” and “your husband needs to learn to drive”.

She said from then on she had been subjected to sniggering and dirty looks from the victim, to the point she felt unable to do the school run.

Mrs Reeves blamed herself for not listening to her husband when he came to speak to her on the evening, and instead suggesting a trial separation.

“I wish I listened to him. He’s in a bad way. I pushed him away when he needed me the most,” she said.

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