Pensioner cleared of murdering terminally-ill husband in 'mercy killing'

Emily Mee, news reporter

An elderly woman has been cleared of murdering her terminally-ill husband in a "mercy killing" after the pair overdosed together.

Mavis Eccleston, 80, was also acquitted of the manslaughter of her husband Dennis, who was in the "end stages" of bowel cancer.

The pair took medication to end their own lives at their home in Huntington, near Cannock.

Prosecutors alleged that Mr Eccleston, 81, had been unaware he was taking a potentially lethal overdose, and that Mrs Eccleston had made admissions to two mental health nurses.

Mrs Eccleston said her husband "knew full well" what medication they were taking and had administered his dose himself.

She told Stafford Crown Court her husband had previously talked about travelling to Switzerland to end his own life and had kissed her hand when she agreed to "go with his wishes" to die.

"It was an understanding between us. He had to tell me what I had got to do," she said.

The 80-year-old said she had written a note to the couple's children to explain why they had decided to take their own lives.

In the early hours of 19 February last year, Mrs Eccleston said she had fetched the medication from a nearby cupboard - as her husband requested - and they took it together.

She 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.

"The next thing I knew I was in hospital," she told jurors.

Mrs Eccleston was given an antidote for the drugs she had taken and made a recovery.

She was arrested a day after her husband passed away as she held his hand in hospital.

In a closing speech, defence barrister Mark Heywood QC said the pensioner had immediately disputed what the nurses alleged she said, and argued it was a "fantasy" to suggest Mr Eccleston would not have asked what medication he was taking.

Mrs Eccleston sobbed in the dock as she was acquitted after jurors took around four hours to return a not guilty verdict.