From The Times, 26 January 2010 (Story by Steve Bird)
A High Court judge has criticised the Director of Public Prosecutions for personally pursuing an attempted murder charge against a “selfless and devoted” mother who helped her acutely ill daughter fulfil her wish to die.
As Kay Gilderdale, pictured right with her daughter, walked free from court yesterday after being cleared unanimously of attempted murder, the trial judge, Mr Justice Bean, repeatedly questioned whether the emotive case had been in the public interest.
Last night, the 55-year-old mother of two spoke for the first time of how her heart had been “ripped apart” between her maternal instinct to save her daughter Lynn, 31, and respect her repeated pleas for help to end 17 years of suffering since she contracted ME.
The former nurse had admitted assisting her daughter’s suicide by giving her 420mg of morphine to inject herself in December 2008.
She was charged with attempted murder after it emerged that she had given Miss Gilderdale medicine to ease her suffering in her final hours.
Only now can it be revealed that during initial legal arguments Judge Richard Brown, who presided over the case before trial, invited the CPS to drop the attempted murder charge.
Referring to her guilty plea to assisted suicide, he asked: “Wouldn’t it be better to accept it now rather than let this defendant get tangled up in a messy trial for the sake of some legal mumbo jumbo?”
The case was reviewed by Kier Starmer, the DPP, after he published guidelines on assisted suicide last September, but the attempted murder charge was not dropped.
Mr Justice Bean’s decision to question Mr Starmer’s role and that of the Crown Prosecution Service will reignite the debate on mercy killings.
The judge thanked the jury for their “common sense, decency and humanity” in choosing to acquit Mrs Gilderdale. Sources close to the family suggested that her trial was used as a test case to sound out public opinion. The CPS remained adamant that its decision to pursue the case was right, saying that the law did not allow mercy killings.
Mrs Gilderdale did not give evidence during the trial. Afterwards, she described the torment of trying to come to terms with a loved one’s repeated pleas to be allowed to die.
“You’re torn apart because you have one part of you wanting to respect your daughter’s wishes and understanding everything they have been through, and you have got your heart being ripped out at the same time because all you want to do is to get them better and keep them alive,” Mrs Gilderdale told the BBC Panorama programme.
“It has been the hardest thing I have ever experienced and will ever experience in my whole life, no matter what happens to me. There will be nothing that will compare to the pain and heartbreak of watching my beautiful daughter leave this world.”
The public gallery at Lewes Crown Court erupted into applause as the jury unanimously cleared Mrs Gilderdale of attempted murder after deliberating for less than two hours following a week-long trial.
Before sentencing her for assisting a suicide, the judge asked who deci- ded to continue with the attempted murder charge. Sally Howes, QC, for the prosecution, replied: “Ultimately the decision was taken by the DPP in consultation in November last year.”
Asked whether it was thought to be in the public interest, she replied: “It was thought at the highest level that this was a case that should be canvassed before the jury.”
The judge released Mrs Gilderdale with a one-year conditional discharge. She replied quietly: “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
Outside the court, Stephen Gilderdale 35, said that he was proud of his mother for her “selfless actions”.
The jury had been visibly moved by the account of two parents struggling to come to terms with the realisation that their daughter had lost the will to fight a debilitating condition.
Richard Gilderdale told how his daughter wanted to end her “wretched existence”. On December 2, 2008, he had sent his usual evening text messages to his ex-wife and daughter to see how a new treatment was going. In his final message to his daughter, he said: “Good night. Sleep well. I love you.”
In the early hours of the following day, Miss Gilderdale summoned her mother to her bedroom and pleaded with her to help her kill herself.