A SOLDIER who plotted to poison his girlfriend so she would have a miscarriage has been freed from jail after top judges described him as a "considerable asset" to the army.
Matthew Fletcher, 35, of the Royal Artillery, planned to feed his partner, Helen Fry, pills he had disguised as innocuous pregnancy supplements as he was "not ready for a family".
Fletcher, who was stationed at Hereford, was jailed for two years at Worcester Crown Court, in May, after he admitted procuring poison with intent to cause a miscarriage.
But three senior judges at London's Appeal Court this week upheld a sentence challenge by the "highly-trained" serviceman.
They freed him by suspending his jail term for a year, as "an act of mercy".
Sir Richard Henriques said Fletcher, an 18-year army veteran, began a relationship with his victim in 2013 and, after a temporary split, he told her he was not ready to have children.
However, she discovered that she was pregnant in January, this year and Fletcher initially said he was unhappy about the news.
He later performed an about-face and said he would support the woman no matter what.
She decided to keep the baby and began taking Pregnacare supplements to help ensure the unborn child was healthy.
But she discovered that packages Fletcher had delivered to her home from India later that month were from pharmaceutical firms which supplied abortion drugs.
When she showed the tablets to a doctor, who confirmed she had not been poisoned, the woman was told to report the matter to police.
The pills were analysed and found to contain substances designed to induce miscarriage. Fletcher's barracks were searched.
Officers found some of the woman's harmless pregnancy tablets, which had been partially drilled out, a tool used for the job and red paint, which matched the colour of the innocuous supplements.
Fletcher, of Holmer, Hereford, was arrested and initially said the matter was "just a row", however, he later confessed to the charge under an act which dates back to 1861.
On appeal, his barrister, Ramin Pakrooh, said the sentence was excessively harsh and "truly career-ending" and argued that, given Fletcher's excellent record and his value to the army, his jail term should have been suspended.
The Appeal Court heard from superior officers who lauded Fletcher's "valued service". They explained that, if Fletcher were allowed to walk free, his military career might be saved.
Sir Richard, sitting with Lady Justice Sharp and Mr Justice Spencer, said: "Fletcher is highly trained and potentially a considerable asset. We make no criticism whatsoever of the sentence imposed at the Crown Court in allowing this appeal.
"Accordingly we suspend the sentence of two years' imprisonment for a period of 12 months. To that extent, this appeal is allowed."