Ex-policeman faces jail after killing fatally ill wife

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The Independent Online

A former policeman who admitted killing his terminally ill wife in a suicide pact faces jail after pleading guilty to manslaughter yesterday.

A former policeman who admitted killing his terminally ill wife in a suicide pact faces jail after pleading guilty to manslaughter yesterday.

Brian Blackburn, 62, slit his wife Margaret's wrists before making a deep incision into one of his own. His life was saved only after he dialled 999 and confessed to what he had done.

Mrs Blackburn, 62, a retired nurse from Surrey, suffered stomach cancer but had refused to seek medical help because of her hatred of surgery.

Blackburn, who had served with Hampshire Police before retiring, was initially charged with murder but after hearing evidence of a suicide pact the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) accepted his guilty plea to manslaughter.

Richard Whittam, for the prosecution, told the Old Bailey it was clear that there was a "loving relationship" between the couple. "Margaret Blackburn suspected she was suffering from cancer but because of her previous work in a hospice, she refused to seek help and had an abhorrence of surgery," he said.

After her death, it was discovered that she had a tumour in her stomach and the prognosis for the rest of her life would have been "very short, very poor", Mr Whittam said. "He [Mr Blackburn] rang police and immediately stated that he had killed his wife as part of a suicide pact because she was very ill." He said the evidence of the injuries sustained by Mr Blackburn were a result of a serious attempt to take his own life.

Yesterday the CPS confirmed that prosecutors had considered testimony from Mrs Blackburn's two grown-up sons who had said that she had visited them to say goodbye.

Blackburn was remanded in custody for reports until 14 January when he will be sentenced. Although manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, lawyers said last night that Blackburn was likely to receive a much lesser jail term and could even escape a prison sentence.

In the past few years a number of people accused of "mercy killings" have been given non-custodial sentences. Government ministers have announced a review of homicide laws that could take account of "mercy killings" and assisted suicides.

* The issue of euthanasia is expected to cause trouble for Tony Blair in the House of Commons today, with nearly 40 Labour backbenchers having signed a motion condemning the Mental Incapacity Bill, which will place on the statute book the concept of a "living will". The Labour backbenchers believe that the provision will lead to the introduction of legal "mercy killing". .