'Mercy killing' mother is jailed for life

John-Paul Ford Rojas,Press Association
Wednesday 20 January 2010 16:55

A mother who gave her brain-damaged son a lethal heroin injection to end his "living hell" was told today she must serve at least nine years in jail.

Frances Inglis, 57, was given a life sentence for killing 22-year-old son Tom after he suffered severe head injuries when he fell out of a moving ambulance.

She gave a tearful and emotionally-charged account to jurors of how she had "no choice" and had done it "with love" to end his suffering.

But a judge instructed them to put emotion aside and told them no one had the "unfettered right" to take the law into their own hands.

Inglis, of Dagenham, east London, was found guilty today of both murder and attempted murder.

She first tried to end his life in September 2007 and was charged with trying to kill him before going back and succeeding in November 2008.

Judge Brian Barker, the Common Serjeant of London, told her: "We can all understand the emotion and the unhappiness that you were experiencing.

"The fact is that you knew that you intended to do a terrible thing. You knew you were breaking society's conventions, you knew you were breaking the law, and you knew the consequences."

Inglis, wearing a green cardigan, sat quietly in the dock occasionally looking up and nodding barely perceptibly as the judge outlined what she did.

He said: "However we look at all this, this was a calculated and consistent course of criminal conduct."

She believed that her son would not recover following his accident in July 2007, and the judge accepted her view was "sincerely held".

"You were a devoted mother and highly regarded for your work in the community," he added.

"This is a highly unusual and very sad case. I accept that his life and yours were changed on July 7.

"What you did was to take upon yourself what you thought your son's wishes would have been, to relieve him from what you described as a living hell.

"But you cannot take the law into your own hands and you cannot take away life, however compelling you think the reason. You have to take responsibility for what you did."

The judge told Inglis she must serve a minimum of nine years in jail, less the 423 days she has already spent in custody.

He thanked the jury for their work on the "harrowing" two-week trial and told them: "You could not have had a more difficult case."

Earlier there had been weeping and cries of "shame on you" from the public gallery at the Old Bailey as the jury returned their 10-2 majority verdicts after more than six hours of deliberations.

After the verdicts Miranda Moore QC, prosecuting, said there was no other case of a similar kind to give any guidance on sentencing.

The court heard that Inglis had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and had a history of depression.

Sasha Wass QC, defending, said: "Clearly Mrs Inglis loved her son, she was devoted to her son."

Inglis had also spent much of her life in "altruistic employment" as a voluntary carer, she said.

"She was a woman who in her life, until the events of July 7 altered her life completely, showed great compassion for the vulnerable and the disabled."

The judge said that because of the circumstances of the case he was able to "make a reduction well outside the usual limits" of the minimum term she must serve - for which the starting point was 15 years.

During the trial Inglis wept as she described her despair at the "horror, pain and tragedy" of her son's helpless condition.

"For Tom to live that living hell - I couldn't leave my child like that," she told the Old Bailey.

She admitted ending her son's life but said: "I did it with love in my heart, for Tom, so I don't see it as murder."

Miss Moore told jurors: "It would be a hard-hearted person who didn't have sympathy for her position.

"It is a tragic case but it is not a defence to murder to end someone's life to put them out of their misery."

Inglis, who was a carer for disabled children, was training as a mental health nurse at South Bank University at the time of her son's accident in July 2007 but left the course two months later.

She had three sons with her partner Alex, a lorry driver, during a relationship of nearly 20 years, but the couple have been estranged since 1995.

Inglis had for part of their schooling taught the boys at home rather than send them to school, showing an apparent reluctance to let them out of her control according to a police source.

After Tom's accident she soon became convinced that he was beyond help, wrongly believing surgeons had removed part of his brain in an emergency operation.

Her older son Alex said: "She was constantly frantic and crying and just in a crazy state. You couldn't speak to her. She almost seemed to be insane. Her wish was that Tom would be dead, and at peace."

He said she could not sleep because she was always thinking to herself: "Tom's in pain, Tom's being tortured."

The distraught mother told the court: "I felt I would rather he go to heaven than to hell on earth. I know Tom would not want to live. He had lost his life."

Inglis wrote in a letter found under her stairs of her fears that her son was in a "dark and terrifying place".

She refused to believe a senior doctor who told her he might one day be well enough to run his own business.

Inglis thought her bedridden son was in "terrible pain" as he suffered fits of sweating and frothing at the mouth.

In court she spoke with pride of how "handsome" he used to be, as pictures of him before the accident were shown to the jury.

But she also described the horror that made his girlfriend Danielle Lambert run out of the room to be sick when she saw him lying in hospital with staples in his head and "tubes everywhere" after an operation.

Consultant surgeon Ragu Vindlacheruvu said Mr Inglis could have gone on to "make quite a favourable recovery".

But Miss Moore said his mother was "fixated" with her own pessimistic outlook, not realising that her son's apparently pained expression was a common characteristic of brain-damaged patients.

Inglis said later: "I knew that my poor baby was going through hell.

"I knew I had to help him. I asked myself what Tom would want. He wouldn't have wanted to live like this."

She began researching ways to kill him on the internet, discovering that a two-gramme dose of heroin would be enough.

Soon, the respectable mother-of-three was trying to get her hands on the class-A drug, surprising one neighbour who saw her as a "pillar of the community" when she asked her if she could help obtain it.

Before succeeding, her search for drug dealers took her to Barking train station, outside a job centre and around needle exchanges.

On September 4, two months after her son's accident, she went alone to visit her son at Queen's Hospital in Romford, Essex.

After she left staff noticed that he had turned a "strange colour" and his heart stopped for six minutes but he was revived.

She later took part in an online debate on the ethics of killing him, writing: "I gave my son a heroin overdose to end his unimaginable suffering."

Inglis was charged with attempted murder and appeared at the Old Bailey where she was given bail on condition she stay away from him.

But she began secretly going to see him again in September 2008, posing as her sister, after he was moved to the Gardens nursing home in Sawbridgeworth, Herts.

Staff had been told about her situation but were never provided with a photograph of her, and a picture of her on the patient's bedside table disappeared.

She had already indicated through lawyers that she was ready to plead guilty to the attempted murder charge, saying she was "acting out of mercy".

But she was desperate to carry out what she saw as the act that would save her son from a "living hell" before being given an inevitable jail sentence.

By now Inglis had also learned that the only legal way her son could be put out of his misery would be to remove feeding, but she later said: "I couldn't bear the thought of Tom dying of thirst or hunger."

On November 21 2008, she woke up early in the morning and laid out instructions at home on her bed for paying the bills and feeding the family dog Max - knowing she would soon be in custody.

She described in court how she put a syringe in her bag and pricked herself with a needle to see how painful it would be for her son.

Inglis went to see him and barricaded herself into his room with an oxygen cylinder and a wheelchair, using superglue to seal the door shut, determined this time to succeed in doing what she thought was best for him.

"He was in bed. I told him that I loved him and I took the syringe and injected him in each thigh and in his arm and held him and told him I loved him, told him everything would be fine," she said.

She was with him afterwards for half an hour before a nurse tried to get into the room, and was "so scared" that he would be revived again that she shouted that she had HIV and threatened to spit at anyone who approached.

Eventually staff managed to break down the door but she urged them not to try to resuscitate him. When it was clear he had died, she collapsed into a chair.

But jurors rejected the unusual defence put forward by her QC, Sasha Wass - that she felt she had not murdered her son but "saved him from an agonised existence".

The court has heard that the family was now bringing a High Court legal action against the ambulance service over the initial accident, which happened as Mr Inglis was being taken to hospital after an altercation during a night out.

Inglis's son Alex said outside court: "I want to say that all of the family and Tom's girlfriend support my mum 100 per cent.

"All of those who loved and were close to Tom have never seen this as murder, but as a loving and courageous act.

"Why is my mum the only person who has been called to answer for her actions which were done out of love for her son?"

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