Ex-soldier Collin Reeves has been found guilty of murdering his neighbours Jennifer and Stephen Chapple in their home on November 21 last year.
The former commando had previously admitted manslaughter but denied murder by reason of diminished responsibility. His trial at Bristol Crown Court, which concluded today (Friday, June 17), decided whether he could rely on that defence.
Several criteria must be met for a defendant to use the diminished responsibility defence. In this case, the burden was on Reeves and his lawyer Joanna Martin QC to prove that it was “more likely than not” that:
He was suffering from an abnormality of mental functioning
From a recognised medical condition
Which substantially impaired his ability to understand his conduct, form a rational judgment or exercise self-control.
READ MORE: Jury sent out to consider verdict in Collin Reeves’ murder trial
Accordingly, the court heard from two psychiatrists and a psychologist on whether Reeves was suffering from a recognised medical condition. All three experts agreed he was, although they clashed on whether this was complex PTSD, mild, or moderate depression.
While psychologist Dr Gough believed a medical condition had influenced his actions, psychiatrists Dr Bacon and Dr Sandford disagreed. Today, members of the jury voted unanimously to convict the defendant of murdering the Chapples, while their children slept upstairs, in their home on Dragon Rise in Norton Fitzwarren.
The senior investigating officer in the case, from Avon and Somerset Police, detective inspector Neil Meade said: “It’s a relief to secure the conviction. You never know which way these things will go.
“Hopefully, we are able to give some closure to the family of Jennifer and Stephen and they may be able to move on from this. I will look back with pride to know I have done as good a job as I can to bring to justice the person who took those parents away from those children.”
Reeves will be sentenced on Tuesday, June 21, at Bristol Crown Court.
READ MORE: Doctors clash over ex-soldier’s mental health claims
Day one of the trial – charges explained
The jury heard a wealth of evidence over the course of Reeves’ trial, which spanned eight days. On day one, prosecutor Adam Feest QC laid out the case as he saw it.
He opened by setting out the circumstances of the murder charge – that, on November 21, 2021, Reeves armed himself with a ceremonial dagger that had been presented to him when he left the Army, climbed the fence into his neighbours’ garden, entered their living room and stabbed them both six times.
He was then said to have phoned the police to tell them that he had stabbed his neighbours and was subsequently arrested. The incident followed a parking dispute lasting several months, which had heightened tensions between the households, Mr Feest explained.
He added: “One of the other potential factors is the state of the relationship between the defendant and his wife Kayley. Mrs Reeves told the Police that shortly before she heard screaming coming from next door, she had told her husband that she wanted a trial separation.”
Day two – Mrs Reeves gives evidence
On day two, Mr Feest opened proceedings with statements from residents on Dragon Rise, who were the first on the scene after the attack. Testimonies from Tim and Emma Slocombe, and Shaun Hart – whose house neighbours Mr and Mrs Chapples’ – were heard by the court.
Mr Hart said he was watching TV with his partner Kayley Payne on the evening of November 21 when they heard screaming from next door, where Mr and Mrs Chapple lived. He said he heard something like “f***” or “f****** come on then” before a door was slammed.
“The screaming lasted around five or 10 seconds. I’ve never heard anything like that around here before,” Mr Hart said.
He explained that he then messaged Jennifer Chapple to ask if she was okay, and also Tim and Emma Slocombe to see if they knew anything about the noise. Then he went towards no.61 – the Chapples’ house – to see if he could find out what was happening.
He said he noticed a tissue with what looked like blood on it on the pavement and that he saw the defendant, who “went inside his house, slammed the door and locked it”. “He looked straight through me, it was like a zone he was in,” Mr Hart said.
In her testimony, Emma Slocombe said she knocked on the Chapples’ door several times. “I shouted Jen, Jen, but there was no answer. So I tried the door and it opened.
“We walked into the living room and there was lots of blood on the floor. I saw Stephen sort of on his side and Jen slumped at the bottom of the sofa. I was just calling her name.”
Her husband, Tim, recalled that, when they entered the room, Emma said “this has got to be a joke”. He then checked Stephen Chapple for a pulse but could not find one. His wife called 999, he explained.
Mrs Slocombe said that an older man – later confirmed as the defendant’s father, Brian Reeves – entered the living room and “aggressively” shouted at everyone to “get out”. “I was on the phone for five or ten minutes and he took the phone off me and started shouting ‘where are you?’ at the ambulance call handler,” she said.
The court then heard evidence from a recorded interview with Kayley Reeves – the defendant’s wife. Unlike the others, her testimony was contested by the defence, and so Mrs Reeves was later cross-examined over video link by Joanna Martin QC, acting for Reeves.
Mrs Reeves described how the defendant was in the Royal Engineers and toured Afghanistan as a driver. “When he came back in 2009, he was a different Collin,” she said. She added that since then her husband had been “more agitated” and “bottled things up”.
On leaving the Army in 2017, Reeves started work as a lorry driver. Mrs Reeves said her husband found his job “lonely” and that in November 2021, he told her he thought she “would be better off without him”. She said he should see a doctor in two weeks if he did not improve.
However, Reeves did not seek medical treatment. His wife described how, on November 21, he came home around 5pm and put his daughters to bed. He had been at a Christmas lights switch-on with his mum and sister.
He told his wife that he was “not in the right frame of mind” but she did not engage with him on this topic and went on to suggest a two-week trial separation. He went downstairs, while she watched TV in their bedroom. Shortly after that, she heard screaming.
Mrs Reeves described going downstairs, where she saw her husband’s military plaque – normally containing pictures and a ceremonial dagger framed in glass. It was in the living room, with the back apparently ripped off, and the dagger was gone.
“I phoned Lynn (Reeves’ mother) and I told her to come round. I said ‘I think Collin has done something stupid’. When I got off the phone, I heard Collin come into the house.
“He took the landline and phoned the police. Then he went into the front room and shut the door. Then I phoned Lynn and I said ‘I think he has gone next door and stabbed them’.
“She arrived and went into the front room. The police took ages but when they arrived they arrested Collin and then I had to pack the kids up to stay with their aunty,” Mrs Reeves said.
Under cross-examination from defence barrister Joanna Martin QC, Kayley Reeves elaborated on her husband’s mental state before the killing. She explained that, in November 2021, her husband did not want to go to the doctor about his mental health because he thought he would have to go on medication, take time off work, and the “bills wouldn’t get paid”.
She said that he felt like he spent all day “on camera” when driving his lorry. She said he did not like cameras and had a “feeling of being watched”. He reacted to this by putting up his own cameras watching their car and taping over the camera on his mobile phone.
Ms Martin also read out text messages between Mrs Reeves and Mrs Chapple, which started off friendly and grew tense. During lockdown in 2020, the neighbours exchanged amicable remarks about lockdown and home-schooling.
However, in May 2021, Mrs Reeves messaged Mrs Chapple to ask her not to park her car across the bottom of their garden, as it was obstructing Collin’s access to their parking space. This followed an incident in 2019, when Mr Chapple bumped into Reeves’ car while reversing.
A dispute over the parking issue ensued, with Mrs Reeves saying that Mrs Chapple’s car was obstructing their bay, and Mrs Chapple arguing that they “did not own” the road in front of their garden and that she had done her best not to inconvenience Reeves.
In her initial statement for the prosecution, Mrs Reeves said that Mrs Chapple had “stared and sniggered” at her, following the parking row and that the dispute had “upset” and “annoyed” her husband.
Day three – timeline to be ‘crucial’
In a recorded video interview, she elaborated the Reeves’ parking dispute with the Chapples, who lived next door. She said that, after a falling-out over Mrs Chapple partially obstructing their parking space with her car, Mrs Reeves said she would often “stare” at her.
“One day, Kayley was cutting my hair in the kitchen and she (Mrs Chapple) stared through the window at us,” Lynn Reeves said. She said that her daughter-in-law had found this upsetting and that Mrs Chapple had also complained that her four-year-old daughter was “scaring her cat”.
“There was something about her husband hitting Collin’s car and that being a hassle to sort out. But he hated the way they picked on Kayley. He said she shouldn’t be treated like that,” Mrs Reeves said.
She was then questioned by Adam Feest, who asked her about what Collin said on November 21. Mrs Reeves said she only remembered him saying “I have to protect my family”.
Lynn Reeves went on to be cross-examined in court by Joanna Martin, acting for the defence. She revealed that she had been the victim of domestic violence inflicted by her husband Brian Reeves, which their five children – including Collin – had witnessed.
She explained that, when the family moved to Taunton when Collin was 12, his older sisters stayed behind in Wales and his big brother Gareth had already enlisted in the Army. She said that Collin was lonely after the move and felt like he had to “take responsibility” for the family with his older siblings gone.
Mrs Reeves said he was also the victim of domestic violence and recalled a day when she heard him shouting “Mum, Mum, where are you?”. On entering the front room she saw her husband beating Collin around the head, she said.
In the 1980s, Brian Reeves saw a psychiatrist who prescribed him anti-depressants. His wife told the court that he too had been beaten as a child.
She was then asked to elaborate on her description of Collin Reeves on the night of the Chapples’ killing. She had previously described him as “pale” and “not like Collin”. Under cross-examination, she added that: “He just looked through us, like we weren’t there.”
The jury was then shown a number of video clips from the days leading up to the Chapples’ death. In the first, captured by the Reeves’ bedroom camera on November 8, showed Mrs Chapple making a rude gesture at their house.
The second, from the Chapples’ doorbell camera on November 11, showed an angry exchange between Mrs Chapple and Reeves. He asked her why she had been “gobbing off” and she said: “she started it, f*** off”.
The court then heard snatches of conversations between Kayley and Collin Reeves, from the night of the incident. She can be heard saying something like “there’s only so many years I can take your shit”, and they both describe feeling lonely.
Clips of Reeves entering and leaving the Chapples’ garden were also played again, to help the jury understand the timeline of events on November 21. Mr Justice Garnham said several times today that this timeline would be “crucial” to their deliberations.
The jury also heard Reeves’ own 999 call to the police, which lasted over 10 minutes, and video footage of Lynn and Brian Reeves arriving in Dragon Rise, following a call from Kayley in which she said she thought Collin had “done something stupid”.
The court heard Lynn Reeves 999 call and watched footage of Brian Reeves entering the Chapples’ house, followed by his son. Their entry was witnessed by Shaun Hart and the Slocombes.
PC Billy Colin also described arriving at the scene and Brian Reeves’ “obstructive” behaviour when he arrested Collin for attempted murder. This was later revised to murder, when it was confirmed that the Chapples had died.
After lunch, the judge reiterated that the jury’s timeline would be invaluable to them in deciding their verdict. The court then watched a video clip of Reeves’ interview with the custody sergeant at the police station.
In it, he can be heard saying: “I’m feeling confused. I don’t understand why I’m here. I was just doing my job. It was an operation.” While in custody he described low mood and difficulties fitting back into society after leaving the Army in 2017.
However, mental health experts said that he had not shown any signs of acute mental illness that would have seen him diverted away from criminal justice. Reeves was prescribed sertraline, an anti-depressant, and zopiclone – for insomnia – while in Exeter prison.
Day four – Reeves defends himself
On Monday, June 13, Collin Reeves himself gave evidence. Prompted by questions from his lawyer, Joanna Martin QC, he began by saying that he felt “ashamed and disgusted” by his actions. He said he had struggled to talk about his mental health in the run-up to the incident.
The court heard how Reeves had struggled with his mental health since leaving the Army, spending long days alone on his lorry-driving job and experiencing flashbacks to a road traffic accident he had seen in training. He also described the events of November 2021, when Kayley told him that Mrs Chapple had said their daughter was scaring her cat.
On the day he killed his neighbours, Reeves had quarrelled with his wife. He said that they had been snapping at each other more recently and “hadn’t been getting on”. When he came back from the Christmas lights switch-on in Taunton with his daughters, Reeves tried to talk to Kayley and she said she wanted a trial separation.
Reeves said he then sat on the stairs and “cried”. He said he could not remember anything after that – although it was noted in court that he would have been sitting near his military plaque, which contained the dagger used to kill the Chapples.
The defendant said that the next thing he remembered was a “white light” and that he “thought he had been compromised”. He said he recalled being on one knee and said he “tried to get onto [his] belt buckle” because a white light was usually a flare – which “meant something was going to happen”.
He said he remembered the door handle on the Chapple’s back door “going down” and that the next thing he recalled was his wife screaming as he stood in their front room. Reeves said that he could not remember killing Mr and Mrs Chapple, but that he recalled saying “I had to protect my family”, after the incident.
Ms Martin also noted that Reeves had recited his Army number when in the custody suite. He said that he could not remember identifying himself as “lance corporal Reeves” and that he answered “no comment” to all questions in police interviews because he “could not understand” why he had killed the Chapples.
It was then the turn of prosecution barrister Mr Adam Feest QC to cross-examine Reeves. He asked the defendant whether he remembered “arming himself” with the dagger before going next door.
Reeves said no, he did not remember doing that. Mr Feest then pointed out that, when he returned home and rang the police – shortly after the killing – the defendant told the call handler that he had “gone round with a knife”.
He also said that the Chapples were in their “living room” and that Mr Chapple was lying on the floor, while Mrs Chapple was on the sofa and that they were “drifting”. Mr Feest noted that Reeves must have known what he had done when he phoned the police, even if he said in his evidence that he did not remember it now. Otherwise, he would not have been able to give those details.
Mr Feest also noted that, in video footage of Reeves leaving the Chapples’ house, he was no longer crouching down. He asked if this was because the defendant had been aware that there was “no one left to see him”. Reeves said he did not know.
Finally, Mr Feest suggested that Reeves’ motive for killing the Chapples – and in particularly Jennifer Chapple – was because they or she had been “tormenting Kayley” since the parking dispute. He backed this up by pointing to a recorded 999 call, in which Reeves can be heard saying “I had to stop them/her tormenting Kayley”.
After a quick re-examination by Ms Martin, the court then heard character references from Reeves’ Army colleagues and extended family members. All said they were “shocked” to hear the allegations against him.
His military colleagues described him as “a great friend”, “one of the best soldiers”, who was “warm” and loved his family. Meanwhile, Reeves’ family members, such as his father-, brother- and sister-in-law, said he was “polite”, “respectful”, “a loving husband and father”, and a “real family man”.
The court then heard evidence from Dr Karen Gough – a consultant forensic clinical psychologist. She spent three hours interviewing Reeves, in person, while he was in custody at HMP Exeter.
She said that, in her opinion, Reeves had “complex PTSD”, caused by layers of trauma from childhood abuse, his time in Afghanistan and a road traffic collision he experience while training to drive an artic lorry.
Dr Gough said he was showing signs of “hypervigilance”, “avoidance”, “flashbacks” and “nightmares”, all of which are criteria for a diagnosis of complex PTSD. She said that, on the night of November 21, she believed Reeves’ had “dissociated”, forcing his brain to “shut down”.
She said that his complex PTSD, depression and anxiety, had played a significant part in how he acted that night. Dr Gough was then cross-examined by Adam Feest.
He asked her whether Reeves had suffered flashbacks to Afghanistan and she acknowledged that he had not actually said this, but he was “very good” at “blocking off” these reminders of his time in Army. She said that he did, however, have nightmares about his father hitting him and flashbacks of the lorry crash.
When she was questioned on the chronology of Reeves seeing the “white light”, Dr Gough said that she had not seen the CCTV footage of him entering the Chapples’ garden. Mr Feest suggested that the “white light” could not have caused Reeves’ dissociation – if that was what it was – because he would already have had the dagger with him by then.
He also asked Dr Gough if someone could forget an event after they had given details of it to the police. She said that that would be “very strange” if Reeves’ memory gap in relation to the Chapples’ murder was the result of some sort of dissociation.
Day five was just by the judge and counsel to clear up any legal questions. The jury returned on Day Six.
Dr Bacon, instructed by the defence, spoke first on day six. She said she believed that the defendant was suffering from “moderate depression” and that this could have “played a part” in an abnormality of mental functioning on the night of November 21.
She added: “For me, there wasn’t evidence of complex PTSD [in Mr Reeves]. I think childhood trauma had an effect on Mr Reeves, both as a child and as an adult, but I don’t think it led to complex PTSD. It is a serious condition and we would be seeing someone who has had problems. all their life, like hypervigilance, and this would cause serious problems in their ability to function.”
Regarding Reeves’ loss of memories around the attack, she said “I think he has experienced dissociative amnesia. In periods of extreme emotion, the mind can lose all memory. You see it most commonly in people who have committed serious offences.”
Dr Bacon continued that Reeves had experienced a number of acute stressors on the day of the attack. These included the argument with his wife Kayley, seeing the war memorial at the Christmas light switch-on, and being surrounded by people at the fair.
However, she concluded by saying that she did not think Reeves’ moderate depression passed the threshold for diminished responsibility. “That is my view, but the decision is one for the jury”, she concluded.
Dr Sandford then gave his opinion on Reeves’ mental struggle. He said the defendant was suffering from “mild” depression but that many of his symptoms were “normal emotions” for his situation.
“This is a man who was unhappy in his job, unhappy in his marriage and he was just stressed. It’s important not to medicalise every emotion,” he explained. Like Dr Bacon, Dr Sandford said that Reeves’ mild depression did not cause impairment of judgement or self-control.
In a cross-examination by Reeves’ barrister, the psychiatrist said that he did not think there was a difference between someone functioning “operationally” and “mentally. Ms Martin gave the example of someone who could go to work because they had to, despite being very mentally ill.
Dr Sandford said: “Dr Sandford said that he did not think it was significant that Reeves used to sit in his lorry and cry. He said that crying was not a sign that Reeves had “lost his mental faculties”.
He agreed that being in a crowd, seeing the memorial and arguing with his wife would have caused a “deterioration in Reeves’ depressive state”. However, he disagreed with Dr Bacon that the defendant’s depression would have contributed to an abnormality of mental functioning.
The jury heard closing remarks from Mr Adam Feest QC, acting for the prosecution. He said: “There is no dispute in this case that the defendant armed himself with a deadly weapon, climbed the fence into his neighbours’ garden, went into their living room and stabbed them to death.
“It falls on the defence to show that it is more likely than not that he can rely on this very narrow defence. All of us have different moods – especially during the pandemic. This is all part of everyday life. It’s part of how we all function as human beings.
“But, as Doctor Sandford put it, ‘just because somebody has a mental health condition does not mean that the function of their mind is abnormal’. The abnormality must substantially impair their ability to understand what they are doing, to form a rational judgement or exercise self-control.”
Mr Feest referred to the neighbourly dispute that had – in his wife’s words – been “bugging” Reeves for months. He suggested that this, coupled with Mrs Chapple’s ongoing disagreement with Kayley Reeves, had motivated the defendant to do what he did.
“Look at the careful way he removed the dagger from its frame, so as not to spoil the pictures. Look at how he chose a killing weapon, rather than a kitchen knife. Look at the way he stealthily crept across his neighbours’ garden, so as to avoid detection.
“In the moments after the killing, this defendant clearly did remember what had happened, what he had done and why he had done it. He killed the Chapples for a reason and he knew what that was and he said it – he ‘couldn’t let them/her torment Kayley anymore’.
“In this case, the evidence does not support that the defendant was suffering from diminished responsibility in killing Jennifer and Stephen Chapple. Whatever issues he experienced since leaving the army, his state of mind on November 21 was not substantially impaired.”
It was then the turn of Joanna Martin QC to make her final speech in Reeves’ defence. She began by affirming that what happened to Mr and Mrs Chapple, in their own home while their children slept upstairs, was “a tragedy”.
She added that Reeves accepted what he had done and was horrified by it, but – “like everyone else in this courtroom” – he could not understand why he had taken his neighbours’ lives. “Why would a sober man suddenly stab his neighbours to death while not only their children slept upstairs, but while his own children slept next door?” Ms Martin asked the jury.
“Why call the police to confess? How can that possibly be a man who is in control?” she continued. The barrister explained that her “burden [was] to show that it is more likely than not that Collin Reeves was not in his right mind,” on the night of November 21.
“Collin Reeves believed wrongly that the only way to protect his family was to stab Jennifer and Stephen Chapple. He wasn’t thinking rationally at that moment, was he? How was stabbing the neighbours going to protect his family?
“He clearly lost his ability to exercise self-control. His actions were out of character. In respect to his mental health issues, Dr Sandford said Mr Reeves’ ‘just soldiered on’, and literally, he did.
“Despite all his training, he couldn’t control the deterioration of his mental health. He needed help. You can answer yes to the question ‘did Collin Reeves suffer from a recognised medical condition?’ And it’s certain on the balance of probabilities that his depression was having an effect on his ability to think clearly.
“You know that on the night of November 21, after the row with Kayley, Collin Reeves sat on the stairs crying. Something shifted in his brain, it must’ve done, to make him that irrational. It must be right that his Army training kicked in.”
Mr Justice Garnham closed by summing up all the evidence heard in court over the last seven days. Members of the jury were then sent out to consider their verdict.
On the eighth day of Collin Reeves’ trial, the jury was again sent out to consider its verdict at 10am.
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This notice was published: 2022-06-17 13:21:39