'Mercy-killing' father cleared of murder

Last updated at 12:24 12 December 2005

A former soldier accused of murdering his terminally-ill son was cleared by a jury today.

Andrew Wragg, 38, admitted killing 10-year-old Jacob on July 24 last year, but denied murder.

Mr Wragg, a former SAS soldier who had worked as a private security guard in Iraq, claimed he was suffering from an abnormality of the mind when he suffocated the boy at the family home in Worthing, West Sussex.

Jacob suffered with a rare genetic disorder Hunter Syndrome.

After the verdict, Judge Mrs Justice Anne Rafferty retired to consider what sentence to pass on Wragg.

The jury elected to remain in court to hear the sentence having returned a verdict of not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter. He has been given a suspended jail sentence of two years.

During the trial the prosecution in the case claimed Wragg murdered Jacob in a "selfish killing" because he could no longer cope with the boy's condition.

Philip Katz QC, prosecuting, consistently rejected the defendant's account that he had carried out a "mercy killing" to end his son's suffering, telling the court mercy killing was "no defence to murder".

Wragg said he had "seen in Jacob's eyes" that the boy wanted him to end his life, proof, his legal team argued, that the defendant had been suffering an abnormality of mind at the time of the killing.

'Knew what he was doing'

But Mr Katz suggested Wragg knew exactly what he was doing when he knelt over Jacob as he slept and suffocated him - and that his plans for the future showed he was thinking rationally.

The court heard how Wragg was planning to return to Iraq for another stint as an £80,000-a-year security guard, how he had booked himself a holiday and socialised with friends.

However, Wragg claimed that the pressure of looking after Jacob, his failing marriage and the horrors he witnessed in Iraq led him to a state of mind in which he believed his son had "come to the end of the road".

On his arrest on the night of the killing, Wragg told police: "Please don't judge me before you know the true facts. It was a mercy killing.

"My son wanted me to do it because he had a terminal illness. He's at peace now. I loved him so much."

The 10-year-old was among only three boys a year diagnosed with Hunter Syndrome, a genetic disease which leaves its victims deaf, dumb, incontinent and eventually in a vegetative state before death.

Jacob was not expected to live beyond his mid-teens.

Drink link

In his opening speech, Mr Katz said: "We say this defendant had to distance himself from Jacob and that this was a selfish killing done in drink.

"It was Mr Wragg's own perceived way out of a situation he found too difficult to cope with."

And on the defendant's defence of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, Mr Katz said: "The prosecution's case is that whilst Mr Wragg may have been feeling disappointment, sadness, loss, fear and anger, and whilst all these emotions may have been reasonable and understandable, we say he was not suffering an abnormality of mind as to substantially impair his mental responsibility for his actions."

But, in acquitting the defendant, the jury accepted his claim that he had always acted through compassion to prevent his son suffering an undignified death.

The trial also heard from Wragg's former wife Mary on how the defendant had threatened to kill Jacob, even saying at one point on July 24 last year, the day Jacob died: "It's tonight."

Mrs Wragg said she was not complicit in any plan to end Jacob's life.

She said she thought her husband wanted an evening of sex when he called on the day Jacob died, insisting that she take the couple's youngest son George, then six, out of the house to her mother's home for the night.

"I would never have left him to face that alone," she said.

Mrs Wragg also told the 10-day trial that Jacob had not been close to death, but had been "happy and jolly" on the day he was killed.

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