From The Times Online, 25 January 2010 (Story by Steve Bird)
Sitting in the historic wood-panelled dock at Lewes Crown Court, the diminutive figure of Kay Gilderdale did not fit with the stereotypical image of a murderer.
No detectives attended the trial willing their suspect to a hasty conviction. None of the victim’s relatives threw the defendant accusatory and withering glances.
Instead, the mother of Lynn Gilderdale was supported by her family, including her ex-husband, friends, and well-wishers throughout the case.
Even the prosecution barristers conceded that she was a “devoted and loving” mother who had cared for her daughter tirelessly for 17 years after she contracted ME.
Despite pleading guilty to assisting her daughter’s suicide by giving her morphine to inject herself, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) pursued a charge of attempted murder after they discovered she had confessed to giving her more drugs, was alleged to have injected her with three syringes of air, and researching suicide techniques in the final hours of Miss Gilderdale’s death.
The simple murder charge was dropped because while the post-mortem examination showed that Miss Gilderdale died from morphine poisoning it could not prove that the other drugs or the possibility of air injections contributed to her death. The maximum sentence for assisting a suicide is 14 years. Attempted murder carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
The decision to charge one of the leading ME campaigners with the attempted murder of her daughter, who had featured in newspaper articles to try to raise public awareness about the condition, was inevitably controversial.
Only now can it be revealed that two judges pondered the merits of extra charges brought by the CPS during lengthy legal arguments.
First, Judge Richard Brown invited the lawyers to drop two charges in light of Mrs Gilderdale’s guilty plea, adding that he felt a trial would “not be in the public interest”.
Referring to her guilty plea to attempted suicide, he said: “It is a serious charge that appears to address exactly what happened.
“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 subsequent trial judge, Mr Justice Bean, then ruled that the charge of aiding and abetting an “attempted” suicide be dropped as it was “technical to a baffling extent”.
Even after the first day of the case, the jury was bewildered by the attempted murder charge — the only remaining charge — and sent a note asking for clarification.
The prosecution told the jury that if they decided she had intended to try to murder her daughter once her suicide attempt with the morphine appeared to have failed, then she was guilty. It also did not matter whether Miss Gilderdale was going to die from the morphine she had injected herself, if her mother attempted to kill her with yet more drugs, that may or may not have worked, she was guilty in law, they were told.
To back up their claim they pointed to how Mrs Gilderdale failed to call an ambulance when her daughter came round from the morphine she had injected. But instead, for some 28 hours gave her ground-up sleeping pills and three syringes full of air to cause an embolism.
The defence, however, said that Mrs Gilderdale merely intended to ease her daughter’s pain rather than kill her. They added that Mrs Gilderdale had been mistaken when she told the family GP that she had administered three syringes of air.
The prosecution added that during those fateful hours she had also researched suicide techniques on the internet, opening 47 websites, including the work of Dr Philip Nitschke, an Australian euthanasia expert nicknamed Doctor Death, and how to use a so-called exit or suicide bag.
Mrs Gilderdale was charged in April last year, five months before Kier Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, introduced an interim policy of charging guidelines for assisted suicide.
Despite them being more lenient, the CPS today said that it would still have charged Mrs Gilderdale with attempted murder because it believed the evidence suggested she had gone beyond assisting a suicide.
Simon Clements, head of special crime division for the CPS, said: “The decision to charge Mrs Gilderdale was made before the guidelines were published. When the guidelines came into force the CPS lawyer considered whether they applied to this case, and came to the view that they didn’t.
“Our case has always been that Mrs Gilderdale tried to kill her daughter. The state of the scientific evidence has always been unclear and we have never been in any position and are still not in a position to prove conclusively that she did kill her.
“The case has gone to the jury. The test which we applied in looking at whether it was proper or not to bring a case is if the judge withdraws the case halfway through, which he did not. As Justice Barker said last week, mercy killing has no place in law in this country.”