Music teacher jailed for giving father a gun to kill himself

Three-year sentence for smuggling weapon to terminally ill man
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The Independent Online

A music teacher who smuggled a handgun into a busy hospital ward so that his terminally ill father could commit suicide was yesterday jailed for three years.

Guy Button, 30, took the Walther PPK gun to Northampton General Hospital on 20 October last year so that his 63-year-old father, Ian, could kill himself.

Yesterday Button avoided the mandatory sentence of five years for possession of an illegal firearm after Judge Charles Wide, QC, said that there were "exceptional circumstances" in this case which allowed him to pass a lesser sentence. The court heard that Ian Button was suffering from terminal lung disease and that his 63-year-old wife, Christine, was in a care home with Alzheimer's. He had hoped to join her in the home but was unable to sell their house – the proceeds of which would have gone towards funding their long-term care.

Mr Button, a car leasing manager, became depressed before deciding to take his own life, the judge heard.

Mr Button's son made two visits to the hospital to deliver the gun and ammunition. On the morning he killed himself, Mr Button took the gun and 19 rounds of ammunition from a leather bag, drew the curtain around his bed on the six-bay Benham Ward and shot himself through the right temple.

He was discovered, still breathing, by a ward sister. Medical staff did not try to resuscitate him because he had previously asked not to receive CPR should he have a heart attack caused by his illness. Mr Button left a note claiming that his son had known nothing about the suicide plan. Button Jnr also claimed that was the case initially, but later admitted to officers that was a lie.

Button, of Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, had previously admitted two charges of possessing an illegal firearm and two charges of passing an illegal firearm to his father.

Jailing Button at Leicester Crown Court yesterday, Judge Wide, said: "It is important that members of the public should understand clearly what I am not sentencing you for. Some might assume you were knowingly assisting your father's suicide. However, I must make it clear that the decision was made not to prosecute you for that, and it has no part in my sentencing you for this case.

"However there's a high degree of culpability, especially having regard to the fact it was a public ward in a hospital and with regard to the patients and staff and the distress this will have caused. You have the burden of the responsibility for what your father did and the circumstances in which he did it."

The judge had previously attacked the mandatory sentence system, claiming that it took away discretion from judges. Yesterday he questioned the decision by prosecutors not to pursue a charge of assisting a suicide – a charge which carries a maximum prison term of 14 years, but no mandatory sentence.

A spokeswoman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: "While the evidence indicates that Guy Button's father committed suicide with a vintage handgun, which his son had provided for him, there was insufficient evidence to prove that Guy Button had any intention to do acts which he knew to be capable of assisting his father's suicide."

Possessing firearms: The law

*The five-year minimum sentence for possession of a firearm was introduced by the Home Office in 2004. The law applies to those over the age of 18 and is waived only in "exceptional circumstances" – it cannot be reduced as credit for a defendant pleading guilty. For offenders under 18 the minimum is three years.

Despite it being mandatory, figures released this year suggested only 60 per cent of people caught with firearms received custodial sentences. Last week, a 19-year-old woman was jailed for two years after being caught hiding a gun under her bed. She said she was keeping the weapon for a male friend who was threatening her, but refused to name him.