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Soldier killed friend's dad while having 'cannabis-induced delusions'

Evening Standard (UK), August 30, 2006

Cannabis-induced delusions drove a soldier to hack his best friend's father to death with a pair of garden shears, a court heard today.

Soldier killed friend's dad while having 'cannabis-induced delusions 'Laurie Draper, 31, wept as he blamed puffs on just a couple of pipes of the drug for the sudden outburst of frenzied violence which killed popular teacher Paul Butterworth, 53.

The lance corporal, who had served in Iraq, admitted manslaughter, and also admitted assaulting his friend, Mr. Butterworth's son Ashley, 33.

Prosecutors accepted shaven-headed Draper's plea of not guilty to murder after medical tests found he was suffering from 'cannabis-induced delusions' and hypomania.

Hypomania is a condition which involves hyperactivity and a grandiose sense of power.

The case will reignite the controversy over the Government's 2004 decision to downgrade cannabis to a class C drug - with users now facing simply a warning instead of arrest and possible jail.

Critics argue there is mounting evidence that cannabis is not only a 'gateway' drug to harder substances such as heroin, but also that it poses a serious danger to mental health in itself. Scientists say it is a common factor in sparking schizophrenia.

Draper, who lived in army barracks in Colchester, Essex, attacked Paul Butterworth with a pair of long-handled shears in the back garden of the teacher's home in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, in March, St Albans Crown Court was told.

He had not used cannabis for years - but on that night, after smoking only two pipes of the drug, he suddenly went wild.

A source close to the case said: 'Draper had been displaying bizarre behaviour for a couple of months - but clearly cannabis tipped the scales and he went completely beserk on this occasion. It was a cannabis-induced psychotic rage.

'He had not seen his best friend Ashley for two years, and at first it was a perfectly nice friendly evening. But suddenly, after smoking the cannabis, he just flipped for no apparent reason.

'He thought he was on fire, the house was on fire, and that Paul and Ashley were trying to attack him. He went into the kitchen and doused it with water, then stripped his clothes off - and attacked Paul.

'He absolutely hacked him to death with this pair of long-handled shears, tree croppers, hitting him about 50 times in the head and face.

'Ashley tried to save his father, but then he fled because he was convinced he was going to be killed as well. He was probably right.'

Neighbour Linda Howard said: 'I saw the arrested man being led away in handcuffs, he was completely naked. There were two officers restraining him.

'Ashley had cradled his dad in his arms and tried to save him but he stood no chance.'

Prosecutor Ann Evans, told the court: 'There's no suggestion that even shortly before the act there was any ill-feeling between the parties at all.

'This seems absolutely exceptional.'

That was why, she said, the Crown considered the charge of murder 'inappropriate'.

Stephen Atkinson, defending, said the defendant was 'of hitherto good character', and would be calling his army officers to speak in mitigation for his crimes.

Draper, whose family had a history of mental illness, served in the Royal Logistic Corps, attached to the 13th Air Assault Brigade, and based in Colchester.

He had completed six-months in Iraq in 2003 and was in the process of leaving the army when cannabis made him kill.

Former army colleague Matthew Holmes said: 'He was a brilliant soldier who loved the Army.'

Mr Butterworth was a canoeist and animal-lover who kept owls and lizards. He had separated from his wife Lesley two years ago.

Their son Ashley became friends with Draper when the two boys were growing up together in Leicester.

Gentle craft and design teacher Mr Butterworth had worked for 18 years at Sheredes comprehensive in Hoddesdon, regularly taking his pupils on trips to Colchester zoo.

Head teacher Rob Robson said after his death: 'Many parents have contacted us to say how much Paul, with his friendly and caring nature, meant to their children.'

Draper will be sentenced at the end of next month - and Judge Michael Baker warned yesterday it was 'obviously inevitable' he would be jailed.

The number of cannabis smokers in Britain is believed to have soared by 20 per cent to 3.5m since Labour came to power.

And recently published figures showed that hospital admissions for mental illness linked to cannabis leapt from 490 in 2001 to 710 last year, after the drug had been downgraded in law.