TOM Shanks’ life veered dramatically from one end of the human spectrum to the other – and back again. Trained to kill, he served in the SAS in the secret war in Oman during the 1970s and then in the Falklands and the Gulf, being mentioned in despatches for his bravery rescuing fallen comrades. He later left the army and trained to save lives, becoming a doctor and working as a senior house officer at Worcester Royal Infirmary in the late 1980s.

But the violence of his past dramatically and tragically returned one night in 1998 when he sprayed his ex-girlfriend with bullets from an AK47 assault rifle he had smuggled home from the Gulf War, as she walked across a pub car park in Castleford, West Yorkshire, after a night out with her new boyfriend.

Although injured, Vicky Fletcher managed to run away in a terrified panic and scale a set of metal railings, no doubt hoping and praying she had escaped. But as the young nurse made her way back to the pub entrance, Shanks emerged again from the darkness and hit her with a second burst from the Kalashnikov. This time she fell fatally wounded and Shanks went on the run.

Immediately his former wife, a teacher, and their nine-years-old daughter, who lived in Birmingham, were taken into protective custody and the local schools closed. West Mercia Police were put on high alert and Insp. Richard Schwab in Worcester said: “We are fully aware of his connections with the city and the possibility he could return to this area. Which is why we have visited his old homes and carried out traffic observations. We know he lived in Worcester, but do not believe he still has any family connections here.”

That may have been true, but what the police also knew is there had been an alarming find made in the loft of a house Shanks once owned in Infirmary Walk near the hospital. After leaving WRI in 1990, he rented the property out and only actually sold it in 1997.

When the new owners explored the attic of the Victorian terraced property they found “an amazing stash” of SAS kit. There was an SAS beret, combat gear, a hat with “Dr Tommy” written on it and a photo of Shanks in the Royal Army Medical Corps (which he joined after leaving the SAS), plus other items all hidden in a khaki bag.

A 25-years-old man who had not long moved in said: “We just thought it was a bit of a joke. We left it up there as we thought he may come back for it one day. We were terrified when we found out the chap we bought the house from was being hunted for murder. We didn’t know whether he still had keys to the property, because we had not bothered to change the locks.

“The loft is unbelievable. He kitted it out so well. It’s so comfortable you could live in it. It did get me thinking, as I had read a book about the SAS and how they can take tiles off roofs and get in without anyone knowing.” On police advice the couple moved to stay with relatives until the murder hunt was over.

Fortunately Shanks was arrested in a public telephone box in the Lennoxtown area of Glasgow a few days after the shooting, when police received a tip-off from a national newspaper.

He actually faced two trials over Vicky Fetcher’s death. In the first, at Leeds Crown Court, the jury failed to reach a verdict. But after a re-trial at Sheffield Crown Court he was found guilty of murder by 10-2 and given a life sentence. A plea to the Court of Appeal failed.

The court was told that Shanks, described by a former colleague in Worcester as “a very aggressive Scotsman who could easily snap”, had a tempestuous three year relationship with Miss Fletcher following the break-up of his marriage. They met after he took a job as an anaesthetist at Pontefract General Infirmary where she was a nurse and less than half his age.

The couple – he was 47, she was 21 - had split up a few weeks before he stepped out the darkness to kill her. At both his trials Shanks denied murder but admitted manslaughter due to diminished responsibility, claiming he suffered from Gulf War Syndrome. At Sheffield Crown Court Mr Justice Jowett was having none of it. He called the defence “spurious” and added: “You knew what you were doing.”

However, following the case a former comrade of Shanks who served alongside him in the Gulf claimed he may well have suffered mental problems, adding: “Three of Tommy’s colleagues have committed suicide. Two of them were doctors. It is part of the unfolding tragedy of Gulf War Syndrome.”