'Mercy killing' pensioner freed over wife's death

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The Independent Online

A pensioner who smothered his suicidal wife in a "mercy killing" was spared a two-year prison sentence yesterday. George Webb's wife of 49 years, suffered from several ailments – some real and some imagined – and had considered suicide for years.

Beryl Webb, 75, begged her 73-year-old husband to help her die and eventually attempted suicide in May last year. After he became worried that the attempt would fail, Mr Webb smothered her.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, sitting in London with Mr Justice Eady and Mr Justice Simon, allowed his appeal. Lord Judge emphasised that the "tragic case" was not one of assisted suicide but of manslaughter, albeit with diminished responsibility because of Mr Webb's state of mental health.

The court heard that Mr Webb had developed a psychiatric condition, described as a "significant" adjustment disorder, and that one of its prominent features was depression. The judge said: "It is clear from the evidence... that the mental turmoil engendered by the impossible situation in which he had found himself must have been dreadful."

Mr Webb had spent 90 days in custody. The prison term imposed by Sheffield Crown Court was replaced with a suspended 12-month sentence.

Lord Judge said the court did not believe that "in the unusual and particular circumstances", the "principle of the sanctity of human life would be undermined". It would mean "that this lonely old man may receive the help that he will need to come to terms with the disaster that has overtaken him".