Man, 100, who slit wife's throat 'acted out of love'

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The Independent Online

A 100-year-old man who killed his wife by slitting her throat avoided a prison sentence yesterday because a judge said he had acted out of love.

Bernard Heginbotham, of Preesall, near Blackpool, had devoted many years caring for his sick wife Ida, 87, before he decided to end her life.

Preston Crown Court was told how he had become increasingly distressed at her health and the way she had been moved between many different care homes.

On 1 April this year the retired butcher and father of six visited her for the last time.

Yesterday he broke down and cried in the dock as the judge, Mr Justice Leveson, described how the Heginbothams had enjoyed 67 years of "joyous" marriage before he had been driven to cut her throat.

The judge sentenced him to a 12-month community rehabilitation after Heginbotham pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

Prosecutor Hilary Banks said the couple had had 67 years of happy marriage together and raised six children but Ida had become dependent on her husband after she had been injured in several falls.

Her condition deteriorated and she needed specialist care and was moved between a number of care homes. Throughout this time her husband had visited her daily.

The court heard he had become very distressed after a telephone call from his son Neville saying his wife was to be moved to a respite home some distance away.

Ms Banks said: "He admitted that he went to the home with a weapon and injured his wife which resulted in her death. He didn't want his wife to be moved again and didn't think she was going to receive the care he wanted her to have."

Police arrested Heginbotham that day at his home, where he was found to have attempted suicide. When arrested by officers on suspicion of murder, he said: "My poor Ida."

He later told interviewing officers he thought he must have gone berserk.

Passing the sentence, Mr Justice Leveson said: "The killing of your wife, to whom you had been married joyously for some 67 years, followed by your attempt to take your own life, was an act of desperation carried out in an effort to end her suffering while you were under intolerable pressure.

"It was in truth an act of love and I have no doubt you suffered a medical disorder at the time and the responsibility you bear is substantially reduced."

He added: "It was, as you will well know, a terrible thing to do but I accept entirely the circumstances in which you did it and your feelings of guilt and remorse have been truly overwhelming."

Mr Justice Leveson's ruling fell short of demanding an inquiry into the circumstances that led to Mrs Heginbotham being moved between the care homes but said that he was "concerned" by what he had heard of her treatment.

After the sentence Lancashire Constabulary's Detective Inspector Phil Burke described what he said were the "tragic" circumstances of the case: "For nearly 70 years he has been devoted to his wife and looked after her and he now felt the only way out was to kill her.

"He was very upset. He was a very independent man who didn't want his family to take too much control."

He added: "I think it's difficult when you see a man like that in court but at the end of the day he's killed his wife and I think it's right that he comes to court and the court have got the range of sentences available to decide what is to be done."