Wife acquitted of failing to prevent husband's suicide

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The Independent Online

A wife accused of standing by and doing nothing while her chronically ill husband committed suicide has been cleared of manslaughter.

A wife accused of standing by and doing nothing while her chronically ill husband committed suicide has been cleared of manslaughter.

It took a jury of eight men and four women just two hours at the end of a six-day trial to find Jill Anderson not guilty of causing the death of her husband Paul, 43, whom she had nursed through chronic fatigue syndrome for eight years.

Mr Anderson, who had suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome - myalgic encephalomyelitis - died in July 2003 after taking an overdose of pills, including morphine.

The jury was told that Mrs Anderson, 49, waited until her husband was dead - a delay of more than 16 hours - before calling an ambulance to the couple's cottage at Galphay, near Ripon in North Yorkshire. She told police that Mr Anderson, a linguist, had asked her not to stop him because the pain he was suffering was unbearable.

Mrs Anderson, who showed no emotion in the dock as she was cleared, said in a statement read out by John Mewies, her solicitor that her actions had been "totally vindicated".

Mr Mewies, added: "She did what she thought was right and proper - and more importantly what she believed her husband would have wished.

"She now needs time to reflect, to regain her health, and to grieve. Something which hitherto she has been prevented from doing."

Paul Anderson's family reacted angrily to the verdict. His sister Sheila Wills said: "By any standards of human behaviour, Jill's action in failing to summon medical assistance was morally indefensible and this was compounded by her cruel decision to withhold the news of his death."

The family claims it only found out about the death six months later when Mrs Anderson wrote to her husband's cousin, Russell Johnson, the Labour MP for Dumfries. "Paul's death was unnecessary - the one person to whom he entrusted his care let him down," Mrs Wills said.

The court was told that Mr Anderson had contracted myalgic encephalomyelitis two days before the couple married in 1995. They had run a freelance translation agency, but as his health progressively declined it failed and he was declared bankrupt.

They had tried numerous treatments, but none had helped his increasing pain in his back and joints. Both he and Mrs Anderson refused to accept that there might be a psychological reason for his condition.

In 2002 he made two suicide attempts and on both occasions his wife summoned medical help. But on July 17 2003 he took an overdose while his wife was away from their home. On her return he told her, "I have taken too much", after which he lost consciousness.

When she looked at him at about 5am the next morning, he had turned blue. Believing he had passed the point of recovery she stayed with him until he took his last breath at about 9am. At 11am called the doctor and emergency services. Later she handed police a note that read: "I am sorry, I love you, I couldn't take any more pain. Your Darling Bear".

Detective Inspector Patrick Twiggs, the officer who led the investigation, said the decision to bring the case to court was justified. "The case law on the issue is at least 10 years old and the whole area around it will benefit," he said.

Hazel Biggs, a professor in medical law at Lancaster University, said she was mystified by the decision to prosecute Mrs Anderson. "It did seem to be a long shot," she said.

"When you're dealing with a competent adult who is able to make up his own mind, how far can someone intervene? Committing suicide is not a crime."