Peter Wrighton killer Alexander Palmer jailed for life
- Credit: Norfolk Constabulary
A former Royal Marine commando has been jailed for life with a minimum term of 28 years for the “callous and planned” murder of dog walker Peter Wrighton.
After an eight day trial, a jury at Nottingham Crown Court took less than an hour to convict the 24-year old from Cringleford over the frenzied knife attack at East Harling last summer.
Mr Wrighton’s body was discovered on The Heath on August 5 last year. The 83-year old suffered around 44 stab wounds to the neck and head.
Palmer, of Freesia Way, who served with the British Army between 2010 and 2015, denied the attack.
The trial heard before the killing, Palmer had made notes referring to voices in his head and killing people with knives.
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The hallucinations and voices in his head, which Palmer dubbed Alex or Little Alex, began after Palmer was attacked by fellow soldiers on a night out in Plymouth in 2013.
He sustained serious head injuries and quit the army in 2015.
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Mr Wrighton’s death was initially treated as unexplained as police began working on a theory he had been the victim of an animal attack, possibly by his own dogs.
But a murder inquiry was launched two days later after a post mortem examination found he had been “subjected to a serious assault” with a knife.
Palmer was arrested after an anonymous tip off from a psychologist at RAF Marham, who called police after seeing media reports of what had happened on The Heath and suggesting they look at Palmer.
At RAF Marham, Palmer had told mental health professionals the voice in his head told him to kill people by attacking the throat and he seemed to have a particular grudge against dog walkers.
Prosecution barrister Stephen Spence told the court aggravating features included “a significant degree of planning” and the fact Mr Wrighton was “particularly vulnerable because of his age”.
“He was targeted as a relatively frail elderly man,” he said.
In mitigation, David Spens QC said Palmer was clearly “suffering a mental disorder at the time”
“There is plenty of evidence he was psychotic,” he told the court.
“There is a history of it. He is in Rampton [secure hospital] at the moment prescribed anti psychotic medication. His full diagnosis is yet to be undertaken.
“At the time of the killing he was not taking anti psychotic medication. The side effects were deeply unpleasant and persistent.
“But for the assault on him by a fellow trainee commando back in March 2013, which would appear to have precipitated the onset of his mental disorder, you may think this offence might not have been contemplated.
“There isn’t any evidence of any aggressive conduct of this kind previously. He was of positive good character.
“He managed to qualify at a young age as a commando gunner in the artillery. Very few candidates pass that course each year and he was one of 20 people that year who managed to qualify.
“That is quite an achievement and shows he had a lot of potential which now won’t be realised.”
Jailing Palmer for life, The Honourable Mr Justice Goose called him a “highly dangerous man”.
“You had stopped taking your medication, knowing that it caused an increase in your hallucinations,” he said.
“You planned this murder having bought the knife and travelled to the scene to pick on a member of the public who was walking his dogs.
“You had thought where to go, how you would carry it out and how you would leave the scene, disposing of the evidence to connect you with the attack.
“This was a callous and planned killing.”
Police were warned about Palmer’s mental health
Mental health staff treating Alexander Palmer warned police about him more than once before he killed a dog walker last year.
Palmer, a former Royal Marine, suffered with psychosis which got worse in 2017 when he stopped taking his medication.
He had recently bought a hunting knife and machete, according to his medical notes, and had told health professionals about his desire to harm dog walkers since at least 2015.
Palmer received treatment for three years, both while still in the Marines and after being discharged.
But by the time he murdered Peter Wrighton in woods near East Harling last August, he had stopped taking his medication and stopped his treatment.
Mr Wrighton’s children said their discoveries about his mental health treatment left them “shocked, astounded and angered”.
A serious case review is now being held to see if any lessons can be learned.
History of psychosis
If he had not been attacked by a fellow trainee commando, Palmer may never have gone on to commit murder, his barrister said yesterday.
The ex-Marine’s mental health problems began after he suffered serious head injuries when he was attacked on a night out in Plymouth in 2013.
His barrister David Spens QC told the court on Thursday: “But for the assault on him... back in March 2013, which would appear to have precipitated the onset of his mental disorder, you may think this offence might not have been contemplated.”
He said the 24-year-old was clearly suffering from psychosis in the form of a voice in his head telling him to harm others.
Palmer was twice hospitalised to get mental health treatment.
“There is a history of it,” Mr Spens said. “He is in Rampton [secure hospital] at the moment prescribed anti psychotic medication.”