Wisbech landlord who butchered pub-goer has murder appeal blocked by top judge

PUBLISHED: 17:27 07 October 2010

Stephen French

Stephen French

Archant

AN ex-soldier who butchered a pub-goer in a frenzy of violence caused by a glass being hurled at his partner had his murder conviction confirmed by top judges today.

Police at the former Wisbech Arms in 2006 following the murder of Christopher Garford.

Pub landlord, Stephen French, 44, was jailed for life at Cambridge Crown Court in February 2007 after he was convicted of murdering Christopher Garford, 49, who was stabbed 23 times at French’s Wisbech Arms pub in the June 2006 attack.

French was ordered to serve at least 15 years behind bars before he could even seek parole.

The former infantryman - who the court heard remains haunted by tours of Northern Ireland during the 1980’s - today sought permission to appeal his conviction with claims that his fragile mental state “diminished his responsibility” for the crime.

His QC, Karim Khalil, said French accepted he should serve time behind bars, and told three Appeal Court judges: “He isn’t seeking to say that he did nothing wrong and accepts that he must be punished for what he did.

Floral tributes outside the Wisbech Arms following the murder of Christopher Garford.

“Our concern is that he should be punished for the right thing,” the QC added.

Lord Justice Richards, sitting with Mr Justice Griffith-Williams and Judge Peter Rook, said French drew a knife after Mr Garford and others refused to leave his pub after hours.

When Mr Garford hurled a glass at his partner, French reacted with extreme violence, stabbing his victim 23 times and - in the words of one eyewitness - “going psycho”.

At trial, French’s lawyers put forward a defence of provocation, but his QC today said he should have run a defence of diminished responsibility, based on his fragile mental state.

Flowers outside the Wisbech Arms after Christopher Garford was murdered.

French never ran this defence at trial because he “distrusted” the psychiatrist who examined him before trial, and so failed to disclose his troubled past, the court heard.

It was only after his conviction that he opened up to another psychiatrist about the extent of his traumatic past - including episodes from his army life in which he witnessed a nightmare bomb blast and saw a comrade shot down.

His military service had left him with a legacy of “post traumatic stress disorder” which made him “hyper-vigilant” and prone to explosive loss of control.

However, dismissing his challenge, Lord Justice Richards said he was “sceptical” about French’s stated reasons for not opening up to the first psychiatrist he saw, adding that his application for permission to appeal was in any event far out of time.

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