A former commando who stabbed his neighbours to death after a long-running parking dispute has claimed his military training kicked in when a bright white security light flashed on, reminding him of flares in a war zone.
Collin Reeves told a murder jury he dived on to his front, instinctively taking cover, and accepted that he must then have gone into the home of Jennifer and Stephen Chapple and killed them with his ceremonial commando dagger, though he insisted he could not remember the actual attack.
Reeves, 35, told the jury at Bristol crown court that he was “trained to kill” and had been taught close-quarters fighting, the use of a bayonet and how to clear houses during urban operations.
He said he had served in Afghanistan and had lost friends and colleagues in the conflict, and told the jury that after his tour he had not had time to “decompress” because he had been court-martialled over a drunken fight.
Reeves admits the manslaughter of the Chapples, who were killed as their children slept upstairs in their home in the Somerset village of Norton Fitzwarren, but denies murder on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
He said on the day of the killing – shortly after Remembrance Sunday last year – he visited a war memorial to pay respects to his fallen colleagues and argued with his wife, Kayley Reeves, who had suggested a trial separation.
Reeves said he did not remember taking the dagger, presented to him when he left the army, from the wall of the living room. The jury has seen security footage of him clambering over the fence that separated their properties.
The ex-soldier said he recalled the bright light coming on. “I felt as though I’d been seen or compromised. The white light was always a trigger for something, like someone setting off a trip flare. It was a feeling like something was about to happen.”
Asked what he was trained to do, he replied: “To get to cover. I was trying to get down on my belt buckle and lie down on my front so I wouldn’t be seen.” He continued: “I had a feeling like it was me or them. I know it was wrong, I should never have been there.
“I feel ashamed, disgusted with myself for what I’ve done, for taking Stephen and Jennifer’s life while their children were in bed, causing pain and suffering to their families and friends.”
Dr Karen Gough, a forensic psychologist, assessed Reeves in prison and concluded he was suffering from “complex PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]”, depression and anxiety.
She said: “I think Mr Reeves struggled to recognise PTSD related to his period in Afghanistan as he felt other soldiers had it far worse and were exposed to far more trauma and risk.
“He did not appreciate the impact of what he witnessed with injured soldiers coming back to Camp Bastion [in Helmand Province] and the risk posed to him by detainees.”
The trial continues.