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Mercy killing husband freed.

Byline: By Nick Foley And David Hughes

Grandfather weeps as he's spared prison

A devoted husband who admitted carrying out a mercy killing on his terminally ill wife in an "act of love" dramatically walked free from court.

Donald Mawditt, 72, gave his wife Maureen, 70, anti-depressants before suffocating her with a carrier bag at their home in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset.

The grandfather-of-four, who had been married to his wife for 50 years, was handed a three-year conditional discharge at Bristol Crown Court yesterday after the judge ruled the case was so exceptional that jail would not be appropriate.

Mr Mawditt had pleaded guilty to a charge of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, after initially being accused of murder.

The heartbroken pensioner, who had cared for his wife around-the-clock, had already prepared for jail and told friends and relatives that he would spend the rest of his life in prison.

He broke down in tears as Judge Thomas Crowther QC spared him a custodial sentence and was yesterday being comforted by his family, who supported his actions throughout. His son-in-law, Nick Ryan, 46, said: "As far as everyone is concerned, it was just an act of love and we just had to have trust in the judicial system. Everybody had been supportive and really sympathetic.

"Donald and Maureen were devoted to each other for 50 years. I know the law has got to deal with what happened but I'd like to buy the judge a pint."

The retired nurse's daughter Karen, a 45-year-old geography teacher, added: "I really admire my dad for what he did.

"He did the right thing. I would not have had the guts to do it myself. It's what mum wanted."

During the trial, the court had heard that in April Mrs Mawditt had been diagnosed with haemocromatosis, a condition which involved an increased level of iron in the blood.

By December, her condition had rapidly deteriorated and she was told she only had a 50% chance of living longer than two years. She became incontinent, had difficulty speaking and suffered muscle spasms. At 11.10pm on January 14, Mr Mawditt phoned 999 and said: "I've helped my wife kill herself."

When the police arrived at the couple's home and arrested him on suspicion of murder, he kissed his wife and said "Goodbye darling."

Yesterday there was no answer from Mr Mawditt's home in Mead Vale, Weston-super-Mare.

But neighbours living in the same street supported the court's move and said they had accepted that the death was an act of mercy.

One woman, who did not want to be named, said: "Everyone is very supportive of Donald and we understand why he did what he did."

Another neighbour added: "Of course we are sympathetic. We never believed Donald was guilty of anything from the word go."

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, said mercy killings would continue until the law was changed to give the terminally ill the right to die.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 3, 2005
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