Wife sat with husband while he died from overdose, court is told

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A wife who did not intervene when her ailing husband took a deliberate overdose has gone on trial, charged with his manslaughter.

A wife who did not intervene when her ailing husband took a deliberate overdose has gone on trial, charged with his manslaughter.

A jury at Leeds Crown Court yesterday heard that a 999 call from Jill Anderson, 49, could have saved the life of her husband Paul, 43, a translator, whose life was made agony by chronic fatigue syndrome. But instead, she sat with him as he slipped in and out of consciousness, cleaned up their cottage near Ripon, North Yorkshire, and finally called a doctor when he was dead.

David Perry, for the prosecution, said Mrs Anderson, 49, owed her husband the same duty of care that would lead an individual to rescue an endangered child or a doctor to look after a patient. "This case is not about the right to die [or] ... euthanasia," Mr Perry said. "It is about the criminal law. Any person who attempts to commit suicide in a moment of weakness is deserving of our pity but is also equally deserving of the protection provided by our law.

"Although [Mr Anderson] was ill, he was not dying. He was not suffering from a terminal illness."

Mrs Anderson denies manslaughter.

The jury was told that Mr Anderson had moved from Scotland to London, where he met Mrs Anderson, a marketing executive with the BBC. He spoke 10 languages and the couple set up a translation business. But he developed the viral infection two days before their wedding in March 1995 and never recovered.

He complained of extreme fatigue and pains in his kidneys and his inner ear. He also told doctors he suffered from irritable bowel syndrome, neck strain and a frozen shoulder. He was virtually bed-ridden and relied on his wife for help with daily tasks such as preparing meals, going to the lavatory and even making a cup of tea.

After stopping work in 1998, his business went bankrupt.

His doctors could find no physical cause for his illness and suggested psychiatric help but the couple rejected that. They fell out with his family, who were also convinced that he needed psychiatric help, cutting off all contact with them. Mrs Anderson did not tell them he was dead until six months later.

The court heard that medical opinion was divided on whether his illness was a physical or psychiatric one. Mr Anderson, who had suffered from hypochondria since childhood, would look up information about drugs on the internet and then request them from GPs, who often refused to prescribe them.

Mr Anderson tried to commit suicide on two occasions in the summer of 1984. In September 2002, Mrs Anderson came home to find he had taken rat poison and whisky in a third suicide attempt but she called an ambulance and he was treated. The same sequence of events happened four months later.

On 17 July last year, she had a premonition that something was wrong. "You are not going to do anything silly are you?" she asked, as she went out. He took a cocktail of sleeping pills, anti-depressants and morphine at 6.30pm and, when his wife returned, he told her "I have taken too much", and slipped into sleep. She stayed with him through the night, observing that he had turned blue at 5am, and was at his side when he died at 9.30am the following day. She tidied the house, knowing that outsiders would be coming in, and called the emergency services at 11am. She handed a note to police which read: "I am sorry, I love you, I couldn't take any more pain."

Mr Perry said that if Mrs Anderson had called for medical assistance when her husband told her what he had done them it was "virtually certain" he would have survived. "She took no action to summon medical assistance," he said. "That failure was a breach of the defendant's duty to care for her husband."

Mrs Anderson said during interviews that, with the benefit of hindsight, she should have called an ambulance, Mr Perry said.

The case continues.