A pensioner has been cleared of the “mercy killing” murder of her terminally ill husband, who died after they both took an overdose at their home.
Mavis Eccleston was also acquitted of the manslaughter of 81-year-old Dennis Eccleston after telling jurors they were both of sound mind, and had agreed to take medication to end their own lives together.
Prosecutors had alleged Mr Eccleston, who was in the “end stages” of bowel cancer, was unaware that he was taking a potentially lethal overdose, and that his wife later made admissions to two mental health nurses.
Mrs Eccleston, 80, sobbed in the dock after being unanimously cleared of murder and an alternative charge of manslaughter following a two-week trial at Stafford Crown Court.
She told the jury last week that her husband - who had previously talked about travelling to Switzerland to end his life on his own terms - had kissed her hand in thanks after she agreed to “go with his wishes” to die.
Describing how she and her husband agreed to take their own lives at their home in Raven Close, Huntington, near Cannock, the pensioner told the court he “knew full well” what medication they were taking and administered his overdose himself.
Mrs Eccleston was given an antidote in hospital for the drugs she had taken in the early hours of February 19 last year.
During her evidence to the jury, Mrs Eccleston said she had fetched medication from a nearby cupboard at her husband’s request, adding: “It was an understanding between us. He had to tell me what I had got to do.”
After they had both taken medication, the court heard, Mrs Eccleston kissed her husband on the head, pulled a cover over him, and he said “good night darling” as she went to lie down on a sofa.
Answering questions from defence barrister Mark Heywood QC, the defendant added that she had written a note saying the couple had decided to take their own lives, to explain their actions to their children.
“The next thing I knew I was in hospital,” she told the court.
Jurors took around four hours to reach their not guilty verdicts after hearing claims that the prosecution of Mrs Eccleston was based on “throwaway remarks” between her and two nurses.
During a closing speech to the jury, defence barrister Mark Heywood QC said Mrs Eccleston had immediately disputed what the nurses alleged she had said.
The barrister also submitted that it was a “fantasy” to suggest Mr Eccleston would not have asked his wife what medication he was taking.
Mrs Eccleston was arrested on February 21, a day after her husband passed away while she held his hand in hospital.
In a statement to the media outside court, the couple’s daughter, Joy Munns, called for a change in the law on assisted dying.
The 54-year-old said: “We do not believe this needed to happen. If there had been an assisted dying law in the UK, our dad would have been able to have the choice to end his suffering with medical support, and with his loved ones around him.
“Our dad would have been devastated at the thought of his beloved wife waiting to find out if, at the age of eighty, she would face a life sentence in prison simply for respecting his wishes.
“He would have been heartbroken if he had known his wife and family would have had to endure 18 months of extreme anxiety and distress.
“We believe there must be a change in the law so that dying people aren’t forced to suffer, to make plans in secret or ask loved ones to risk prosecution by helping them.”