Judge frees lonely son who killed his parents after a life of caring for them

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The Independent Online

A man who suffocated his elderly and chronically ill parents in a mercy killing walked free from court yesterday.

Daniel Gardner had "devoted the entirety of his life" to caring for his mother and father, the Old Bailey heard.

But after his mother fell victim to dementia and his father was left bedridden and in agony, Gardner, 51, became racked with depression.

After suffocating them both with plastic bags, he told a social services worker: "I have done what I have done. It was their time."

Gardner had earlier pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Sentencing him to two years' community service, Judge Richard Hawkins QC said: "You are not a danger to the public at large and it is not right for me to send you to prison. You were suffering from a serious depressive illness at the time, which put you under huge emotional strain, and you felt you were acting in the only way you could."

The court heard that Gardner, a former lorry driver, had devoted his life to caring for his mother, Eileen, and father, Stanley. By last year, his 83-year-old mother was suffering from severe Alzheimer's disease and needed constant care. She was frequently violent towards her son, whom she no longer recognised.

His 79-year-old father had heart problems and terminal blood poisoning from gangrene in his foot.

Their son had no friends and became depressed and isolated because he spent all his time caring for them. Relatives told police that Gardner had found it increasingly difficult to cope and, three weeks before the killings, he tried to commit suicide. As well as caring for his parents 24 hours a day, he was suffering from depression and diabetes.

John Ryder, for the defence, said: "The entire family fell victim to their mutual devotion. The sole intention of the defendant in acting as he did was compassion. He brought an end to the suffering of his father and the indignity of his mother's life."

As his parents slept, Gardner wrapped their arms around each other and tied a plastic bag around the head of each. He then took an overdose of his father's morphine and stabbed himself in the neck, intending to kill himself.

When a home-help carer came to the door of their home in Plumstead, south-east London, the next morning, she found Gardner covered in blood and the bodies of his parents in the bedroom.

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, said: "The law simply does not work. The burden of assisting the death of someone with a terminal illness should not rest with family members. Commonly, the feelings of guilt family members are left with often result in them going on to self-harm just like this terribly sad case."