No charge for rugby suicide parents

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The Independent Online

No charges are to be brought against the family of a paralysed rugby player for helping him travel to Switzerland to commit suicide, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said today.

Daniel James, 23, died at a clinic run by the Dignitas organisation on 12 September, more than a year after a rugby accident which left him paralysed from the chest down.

The CPS considered bringing charges under the Suicide Act against his parents Mark and Julie James, from Sinton Green, Worcester.

Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC said today that such a prosecution would not be in the public interest, and no further action will be taken against the couple.

Mr Starmer said that while there were public interest factors in favour of a prosecution, including the seriousness of the case, they were outweighed by the arguments against.

"This is a tragic case, involving as it does, the death of a young man in difficult and unique circumstances," he said.

"In reaching my decision I have given careful consideration to the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

"In particular, but not exclusively, I would point to the fact that Daniel, as a fiercely independent young man, was not influenced by his parents to take his own life and the evidence indicates he did so despite their imploring him not to."

A training ground injury in March 2007 left Mr James paralysed from the chest down, with no independent hand or finger movement, and eight months later his consultant said it was unlikely he would ever enjoy a significant recovery.

At the time of his accident, Mr James was in the third year of a construction engineering degree at Loughborough University.

He was a promising rugby player and represented England at under-16s level, as well as the England Universities and England Students teams.

He made one appearance for England Universities in 2005 and five appearances for England Students between 2006 and 2007.

Mr James's parents said he had never come to terms with his extreme physical incapacity, and repeatedly said he wanted to die and was determined to do so.

When news of the death emerged in October, the couple issued a statement saying their son was "an intelligent young man of sound mind" who was "not prepared to live what he felt was a second-class existence".

They said he tried "several" times to kill himself before he "gained his wish".

The CPS said Mr James first contacted Dignitas, the Swiss organisation dedicated to helping those with terminal or incurable illnesses end their lives, in February this year, asking for help to kill himself.

He had already tried to commit suicide three times.

Writing to Dignitas, Mr James said: "The primary reason I wish for your help is simply that I want to die, and due to my disability I am unable to make this happen. Not a day has gone by without hoping it will be my last. I do not want another failed attempt."

A consultant psychiatrist assessing him said in March that he was "fully aware of the reality and potential finality of his decision, displays clear, coherent and logical thinking processes in order to arrive at his decision, and has clearly weighed alternatives in the balance".

A second psychiatric report, dated July, said Mr James "clearly understood that no other parties, be that professionals or family members, wished him to pursue this course of action and was clearly aware that he could reverse his decision at any point.

"He remained firmly of the opinion that support from any agency would not be helpful for him or change his decision."

West Mercia Constabulary investigated his parents, who agreed they had helped send documentation to Dignitas for Mr James, made payments to the organisation from their bank accounts and made travel arrangements to take him to Switzerland.

The CPS said no charges would be brought against a family friend who helped with travel arrangements and was also under investigation.

Mr Starmer considered offences under Section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961, of aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the suicide of another.

In his written assessment of the case, Mr Starmer said there was enough evidence to pursue a prosecution against the parents with a "realistic prospect of conviction".

But he continued: "I consider it very unlikely that a court would impose a custodial penalty on any of the potential defendants... in all probability the sentence would be either an absolute discharge or, possibly, a small fine."

Mr James's body was not subject to a full post-mortem examination on its return to the UK, but blood samples were tested and found to contain fatal levels of a type of barbiturate normally used for suicide in the Zurich clinic.

Mr Starmer said it was clear that Mr James had not been manipulated into committing suicide by his parents.

"It is clear that Daniel was a mature, intelligent and fiercely independent young man with full capacity to make decisions about his medical treatment whose determination to commit suicide was not in any way influenced by the conduct or wishes of his parents - on the contrary, he proceeded in the teeth of their imploring him not to do so," he wrote.

During interview, Mark James described begging his son not to kill himself.

"We pleaded with him not to do it and change his mind and live... we were all so upset but at the end of the day it was what he wanted," he said.

"Even up to the last second... I hoped he'd change his mind... and my wife... I know she felt exactly the same. There would be nobody happier to hear him to say he'd changed his mind and he didn't want to do it."