DEFENCE Secretary Ben Wallace has refused to change the rules on military personnel being gifted knives when they retire, despite a request from Somerset Coroner Samantha Marsh following a double murder in Norton Fitzwarren.

Stephen Chapple and his wife Jennifer were stabbed to death by next-door neighbour Collin Reeves with the ceremonial dagger presented to him when he left his Army Commando regiment.

Reeves stabbed the couple each six times in their living room while their two young children were upstairs asleep in bed.

He was convicted of their murders at a trial in Bristol Crown Court in June, 2022, and sentenced to life in prison with a minimum term of 38 years, which was later reduced on appeal to 35 years.

Mr Chapple was a teacher in the West Somerset College, Minehead, and Mrs Chapple worked in a garden centre in the village.

Mrs Marsh in a ‘prevention of future deaths report’ called for the Army to reconsider the practice of weapons being given as retirement gifts.

She pointed out that Reeves’s dagger had been removed from the scene before police arrived on the night of the murders in November, 2021, and had never been recovered, so was potentially still in the community.

Mrs Marsh said the ceremonial dagger was not a blunt replica, but a functional weapon capable of causing ‘significant harm, injury, and, sadly, in the Chapple’s case, death’.

She said it was to all intents and purposes ‘a deadly weapon’.

But Mr Wallace said current restrictions were ‘sufficient’ and pointed out that knives were available to buy online.

But, he said the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had ‘learned lessons’ and ‘corrective action is being taken’.

He was writing to officers commanding units entitled to such knives to remind them to ensure there was a genuine requirement if they were issued to personnel.

Mr Wallace said even if Reeves’s dagger had been recovered it would not be possible to determine if it had been supplied through the MoD or legally purchased from a commercial UK source.

The weapon was believed to be a ‘Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife’ commonly known as a commando dagger and officially named a ‘Combat Fighting Knife’.

Mr Wallace said ‘there are no records of combat fighting knives having been gifted’, but there was a ‘tradition’ of presenting leaving gifts to individuals.

A ‘Combat Fighting Knife’ as part of a presentational display was ‘one of many gifts that may be presented to service personnel departing military units associated with the commando role’.

Mr Wallace said such gifts were provided using non-public funds, such as a collection from colleagues, and were also available from a range of commercial suppliers.

He said: “MoD policy is very clear. Nobody is permitted to make a gift of MoD property without specific approval from the correct authority.”

The MoD did not consider it was appropriate to provide ‘Combat Fighting Knives’ to anybody other than personnel who required them for a specific combat role.

Mr Wallace said a standing order banning service personnel gifting such items would be of ‘limited utility’.

He said on the internet search engine Google there were more than 160,000 hits on the term ‘Fairbairn-Sykes knives for sale’.

Mr Wallace said: “I consider existing restrictions upon gifting of MoD property to be sufficient, however, I have written to the Service chiefs in order to inform them of this horrific murder and remind them of their duty to ensure that misappropriation of MoD items is identified and investigated.”