Woman jailed for smothering a dying friend who she knew was opposed to euthanasia

David Paterson was suffocated with a pillow by Heather Davidson

Rachael Pells
Friday 05 June 2015 21:37
Heather Davidson had claimed the murder was a mercy killing
Heather Davidson had claimed the murder was a mercy killing

A churchgoer who smothered a dying devout Christian with a pillow despite her victim’s opposition to euthanasia has been sentenced to life with a minimum of 10 years for murder.

David Paterson, 81, was dying of cancer when he was suffocated with a pillow by his friend Heather Davidson, 54, in the bedroom of his care home on 11 February this year.

The defendant, from Sowerby, Thirsk, pleaded guilty to murder after police discovered evidence from telephone calls she had made to the Macmillan Cancer Support just hours before carrying out the crime, in which she asked a helpline workers if smothering her friend would make her a murderer. Macmillan staff alerted police after Davidson’s call, but the line could not be traced before Mr Paterson’s murder.

David Paterson, 81, was dying of cancer when he was suffocated with a pillow by his friend Heather Davidson

In court, Davidson had claimed the murder was a mercy killing. But Teesside Crown Court heard that she had acted “unilaterally” without thinking about what he wanted, or the views of the family and staff.

Judge Simon Bourne-Arton: “You were only were saving him a few hours of suffering. In so doing, you deprived him of what he wanted most, a natural death. This private man did not in death have a private ending.”

Davidson had made complaints in the phone call to Macmillan about how the widower was being treated at Sowerby House, Thirsk, North Yorkshire, which the prosecution said were unfounded.

She wept in the dock as extracts from the call she made from her mobile phone during her final visit to Mr Paterson were played in court.

Davidson said in the call: “If he was a dog he would have been put down months ago. I want him to be with his wife, I want him to be with all those lovely people that have died.”

In a macabre twist, the court heard Davidson has a previous conviction for trying to smother her neighbour’s dog. After an argument, she took the pet and taped a plastic bag over its head. The dog was found limp, hidden in a bedding box by a police officer who managed to revive it.

Davidson, who knew Paterson from their time attending the same church, killed her friend despite knowing his religious beliefs, the court heard.

Jonathan Sharp, prosecuting, told the hearing: “As a devout Christian, he had strong ethical objections to euthanasia. He had said it will be God’s decision and only God’s when it was his time to meet his maker.”

Mr Sharp said that Mr Paterson was “generally comfortable” and had been prescribed morphine. Suspicions were raised immediately after Davidson alerted staff that Mr Paterson had died, as there was blood on the pillow. A post mortem confirmed he had been smothered.

Mr Paterson was married for 51 years until his wife died in March 2014. They had no children but he was in regular contact with his sister, nephews and nieces.

Transcript: The Key Phone Call

Just hours before carrying out her crime, Heather Davidson made an emotional phone call to Macmillan Cancer Support to ask if smothering her dying 81-year-old friend would make her a murderer.

She told the call handler she was with a man she had known for a long time, and that he could not recognise anybody, could not eat or drink and had no quality of life. She cried as she said: “I think it would be better if I could just put a pillow over his face.” She added: “Would I be a murderer if I did that?”

The call handler replied: “In the eyes of the law, yes, you would, yeah.”