Weymouth Man Avoids Jail In Mercy Killing Case

20 March 2014, 17:25 | Updated: 20 March 2014, 17:26

A 50-year-old Dorset man has avoided jail for attempting to murder his terminally-ill mother who he admitted smothering in her hospital bed in an act of "attempted euthanasia'', according to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Iain Harrison, of Carlton Road North, Weymouth, pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of 74-year-old Hope Harrison and was sentenced at Winchester Crown Court to a two-year prison term, suspended for 18 months.

John Locke, senior crown prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service in Wessex, explained that Mrs Harrison had been diagnosed with lung cancer and was admitted to the Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester in March 2011 when her condition worsened.

Harrison was at her bedside in the days before her death and asked nursing staff if there was anything he could do to help her - to which he was told that all he could do was be by her side.

Following her death on April 2, Harrison attempted to commit suicide and confessed to a psychiatrist that he was "consumed with guilt after killing his mother by suffocating her''.

Mr Locke said that it could not be proven that Harrison had killed his mother but that his confession was sufficient for a prosecution of attempted murder.

He said: "This is a very sad case, where a son admitted carrying out an act that amounted to the attempted murder of his terminally ill mother because he could not bear seeing her suffering.

"As distressing as it is to see a loved one suffering and dying from cancer or a terminal illness, it is not for a person to decide when someone should die. Euthanasia is effectively murder and murder is a crime.''

He continued: "The court heard how Hope Harrison, 74, was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2010 and that the prognosis was that she had not long to live.

"On March 29 2011 she was admitted to Dorset County Hospital after her condition worsened. Her cancer had spread elsewhere in her body and she was in great pain.

"It was felt by her consultant that she would not benefit from surgical intervention; she was to be kept as comfortable as possible as her death was inevitable.

"The nurse in attendance at the time entered in her log book that Mrs Harrison's 50-year-old son Iain was at her side and asked the nurse to help his mother as she was in great pain. Mrs Harrison was given morphine and midazolam.

"Mr Harrison asked the nurse if there was anything he could do, and the nurse told him that they could only make her comfortable and the only thing he needed to do was to be on her side when she eventually passed away. Mrs Harrison died on the evening of April 2 2011.

"Mr Harrison started to see a psychiatrist as following the death of his mother he suffered from depression. On two occasions he tried to commit suicide and he seriously injured himself by jumping from the window of his fourth floor flat. On February 21 2013 he confessed to this psychiatrist he was consumed with guilt after killing his mother by suffocating her.

"He then called the police who arrested him. He made the same confession to the police after declining to have a solicitor. After a careful and thorough review of all the evidence in this case, I decided that there was sufficient evidence and it was in the public interest to charge Mr Harrison with an offence of attempted murder, an offence that he pleaded guilty to on February 21 2014.

"Mrs Harrison's consultant said that her death was inevitable and it was therefore not possible for the prosecution to prove that her son had actually killed her. However it was possible to prove that he attempted to do so, based on his own admission.''