Mother who killed brain-damaged son loses appeal

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A devoted mother who injected her brain-damaged son with a fatal dose of heroin as an act of mercy, believing he was suffering a painful "living death", failed in a bid to overturn her murder conviction today.

Ruling in what is believed to be the first murder involving a "mercy killing" to reach the Court of Appeal, three judges in London rejected the challenge brought by Frances Inglis, 58, of Dagenham, east London, who is serving a life sentence.

But the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, sitting with Mr Justice Irwin and Mr Justice Holroyde - who declared that her conviction appeal was "not arguable" - reduced the minimum term she must spend behind bars before becoming eligible to apply for parole from nine years to five.

Inglis, whose family stood by her, was found guilty at the Old Bailey in January of murder and also of attempted murder, which related to an earlier bid to end her 22-year-old son Tom's life with an injection of heroin, after he suffered severe head injuries when he fell out of a moving ambulance in July 2007.

Announcing the decision, Lord Judge said: "On any view this case is a tragedy, not only for the appellant, who has lost a precious and loved son, but for the father and brothers of the deceased and the extended family.

"There is a wider public interest in the case because the issues to which it gives rise are immensely sensitive and difficult, and they have attracted an increasing measure of public interest and concern.

"Therefore we must underline that the law of murder does not distinguish between murder committed for malevolent reasons and murder motivated by familial love.

"Subject to well-established partial defences, like provocation or diminished responsibility, mercy killing is murder."

Lord Judge said: "How the problems of mercy killing, euthanasia, and assisting suicide should be addressed must be decided by Parliament, which, for this purpose at any rate, should be reflective of the conscience of the nation.

"In this appeal we are constrained to apply the law as we find it to be. We cannot amend it, or ignore it."

Lord Judge said Inglis's son's life "could not lawfully be extinguished".

However disabled he might have been "a disabled life, even a life lived at the extremes of disability, is not one jot less precious than the life of an able-bodied person".

He added: "Thomas's condition made him especially vulnerable, and for that among other reasons, whether or not he might have died within a few months anyway, his life was protected by the law, and no one, not even his mother, could lawfully step in and bring it to a premature conclusion."

The judge added: "Until Parliament decides otherwise, the law recognises a distinction between the withdrawal of treatment supporting life, which, subject to stringent conditions, may be lawful, and the active termination of life, which is unlawful."

It was accepted by the judges that Inglis, who worked as a carer for disabled children, was a decent woman, of positive good character "and that acts of violence of any kind, let alone fatal or potentially fatal actions, were quite outside her normal character".

But in relation to her son and his injuries "she was resolved that she should relieve him of his suffering".

There was "no doubt about the genuineness of her belief that her actions in preparing for and eventually killing Thomas represented an act of mercy".

Lord Judge said: "There is no doubt at all that the appellant was subjected to great stress and anguish, but dealing with it briefly and starkly, there was, as our analysis of the evidence underlines, not a scintilla of evidence that when the appellant injected the fatal dose of heroin into her son she had lost her self-control."

Far from lacking or losing self-control - an "essential ingredient" for the defence of provocation - Inglis "was completely in control of herself".

The judge said: "The appellant's condition of depression and post traumatic stress disorder diminished her ability to view her son's condition, and all the events that surrounded it, in an objective way, and reduced her ability to cope with the awful stresses and strains likely to be imposed on any loving parent."

Her actions were deliberate and premeditated and her "compulsive objective" was to kill her son.

Lord Judge said: "She was motivated throughout by her personal, unremitting conviction that she should release him from the living hell his very limited life had become and which it would continue to be, and also because she herself, in all probability because of her fragile personality and depressive disorders, was unable to cope personally with the catastrophic consequences of the accident."

He added: "She has never felt any sense of guilt or remorse, and she was and remains convinced that, irrespective of what anyone else might think, her son's life had to be brought to an end."

The judge said: "In our view her mental responsibility for her actions, driven as she was by a compulsive obsession, was diminished if not sufficiently for the purposes of the defence of diminished responsibility, certainly to an extent that reduced her culpability."

But her culpability was reduced, not extinguished.

"She had resolved to kill Thomas within a very short time of the accident, almost in its immediate aftermath, and well before the long-term results of the operations and treatment could be known, and indeed while the remaining members of Thomas's family were still hoping that he would survive.

"She was convinced that she, and she alone, knew what was best for Thomas, to such an obsessive extent that any view to the contrary, however it was expressed, was to be rejected out of hand.

"This was not a moment or two of isolated thinking, but a settled intention. She tried to kill Thomas and did eventually kill him without a thought to the feelings of anyone else, including his father and his brothers, and indeed the members of the medical professions who were doing their very best to care for him."

The judge said that "perhaps most significantly of all" her unsuccessful attempt to kill her son had produced a deterioration in his condition - she had contributed to "the very sorry condition from which, on the day of his death, Thomas was suffering".