Wife cleared of husband’s ‘mercy killing’ murder

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Mavis and Dennis Eccleston Image copyright Family handout
Image caption Mavis and Dennis Eccleston were found at their home in February 2018

An 80-year-old woman has been found not guilty of murdering her terminally ill husband in a “mercy killing”.

Mavis Eccleston was accused of giving her husband Dennis, 81, a potentially lethal dose of prescription medicine without his knowledge.

She told Stafford Crown Court they both intended to take their own lives. Jurors heard she also took an overdose but survived.

Mrs Eccleston was also cleared of manslaughter after a two-week trial.

Speaking outside court, one of the couple’s three children Joy Munns called for a change in the law on assisted dying “so that dying people aren’t forced to suffer, make plans in secret or ask loved ones to risk prosecution by helping them”.

The court heard Mr and Mrs Eccleston had written a note saying they had decided to take their own lives, to explain their actions to their children.

But they were found by family members at their bungalow in Huntington, near Cannock in Staffordshire, on 19 February last year.

They were rushed to hospital where Mrs Eccleston was given an antidote for the drugs she had taken.

The court heard that after his bowel cancer was diagnosed as terminal, Mr Eccleston had made a decision to receive no further treatment except for medication for pain management and did not wish to be resuscitated by medical staff.

Mrs Eccleston told jurors her husband had kissed her hand after she agreed to “go with his wishes” to die.

She said he “knew full well” what medication they were taking and administered his overdose himself after she had fetched it from a cupboard at his request.

“It was an understanding between us. He had to tell me what I had got to do,” she said.

The court heard after they had both taken medication, Mrs Eccleston kissed her husband on the head, pulled a cover over him and he said “good night darling” as she went to lie down on a sofa.

“The next thing I knew I was in hospital,” she told the court.

Mrs Eccleston told jurors her husband had previously talked about travelling to Switzerland to end his life on his own terms.

Image caption Standing next to Mavis Eccleston, her daughter Joy Munns thanked jurors for their verdict

Speaking outside court stood next to her mother, Ms Munns, 54, said the family were “grateful and relieved” that the jury recognised “our mom’s love for our dad”.

But since dad’s death our family has been through a terrible ordeal, waiting over 18 months for this court case, worrying that having already lost our dad to cancer, we might now see our mom imprisoned.

“If there had been an assisted dying law here in the UK our dad would have been able to have the choice to end his suffering, with medical support, and with his loved ones around him.”

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said: “Because of the UK’s outdated laws on assisted dying, Dennis felt his only option was to end his own life behind closed doors.

“Dennis should not have been forced to take such drastic actions and Mavis should never have been put in this agonising position.”

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