AN ‘ACT of mercy’ – that was how a judge described a son’s bid to kill his cancer-ridden mother as she laying dying in Dorset County Hospital.
It came as Iain Campbell Harrison was sentenced for admitting attempting to murder his mother Hope, 74.
Harrison, aged 50, of Carlton Road North, Weymouth, walked from court today after being handed a suspended sentence for attempting to murder his mother in a ‘mercy killing’ at the Dorchester hospital.
It could not be proved that Harrison had actually killed her so he was charged with attempted murder.
It was acknowledged it was an ‘exceptional case’ and that it was clear Harrison was ‘wracked with remorse and guilt’.
The court heard he had ‘pinched his mother’s nose and covered her mouth with his hand’.
The incident happened in April 2011, but came to light two years later when Harrison confessed to a psychiatrist he had killed her.
However, Mrs Harrison’s consultant said her death was inevitable and it was not possible for the prosecution to prove he had actually killed her.
Prosecutor Matthew Jewell told the court: “It was clear to all those involved that she did not have very long to live. There is an entry in the notes at around 8pm on April 2 that this defendant asked staff if they could help his mother on her way.
“He was told they could make her more comfortable. His mother was agitated and morphine was administered by the nurse.”
In a police interview, Harrison said his sister had left the hospital building to go for a cigarette and there was no one else around when he suffocated his mother, the court heard. He added: “There was no suspicion at the time and the death certificate records the cause as a small valve obstruction and cancer.”
In mitigation, Lee Christmas said it was an ‘exceptional’ case.
He told Judge Guy Boney: “His actions that day were an act of mercy. He and his sisters believed their mother to be in a great deal of pain.
“But for his admissions, it would never have come to light.
“Your Honour has seen the impact it has had on him. He is a man who has struggled to live with what he has done.”
Judge Boney said it was clear Harrison was ‘wracked with remorse and guilt’.
Sentencing at Winchester Crown Court, he gave Harrison a prison sentence of two years, suspended for 18 months. Judge Boney referenced a similar case in the Court of Appeal where a judge had ruled that it was difficult to imagine a case of murder which fell below the custody threshold.
He told Harrison: “You have suffered enough.
“This whole matter falls outside the perimeter of sentencing guidelines.
“She had very much reached the end of her natural life and had expressed the view that she wanted to die as soon as possible.”
He added: “It was an act of mercy.”
Prosecution 'was in public interest'
Speaking after the case, John Locke senior Crown prosecutor for Wessex CPS said: “This is a very sad case, where a son admitted carrying out an act that amounted to the attempted murder of his terminally ill mother because he could not bear seeing her suffering. As distressing as it is to see a loved-one suffering and dying from cancer or a terminal illness, it is not for a person to decide when someone should die. Euthanasia is effectively murder and murder is a crime.
“The court at Winchester Crown Court heard how Hope Harrison was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2010 and that the prognosis was that she had not long to live.
“On March, 29, 2011 she was admitted to Dorset County Hospital after her condition worsened.
“Her cancer had spread elsewhere in her body and she was in great pain.
“It was felt by her consultant that she would not benefit from surgical intervention; she was to be kept as comfortable as possible as her death was inevitable. The nurse in attendance at the time entered in her log book that Mrs Harrison’s son Iain was at her side and asked the nurse to help his mother as she was in great pain.
“Mrs Harrison was given morphine and medazalam. Mr Harrison asked the nurse if there was anything he could do, and the nurse told him that they could only make her comfortable and the only thing he needed to do was to be on her side when she eventually passed away. Mrs Harrison died on the evening of April, 2, 2011.
“Mr Harrison started to see a psychiatrist as following the death of his mother he suffered from depression. On two occasions he tried to commit suicide and he seriously injured himself by jumping from the window of his fourth floor flat. On February, 21, 2013 he confessed to this psychiatrist he was consumed with guilt after killing his mother by suffocating her.
“He then called the police who arrested him. He made the same confession to the police after declining to have a solicitor.
“After a careful and thorough review of all the evidence in this case, I decided that there was sufficient evidence and it was in the public interest to charge Mr Harrison with an offence of attempted murder, an offence that he pleaded guilty to on February, 21, 2014.”
Hospital: No safety concerns
A DORSET County Hospital spokesman said: “Hospital staff have supported Dorset Police in the investigation.
“No concerns regarding the safety of Mrs Harrison were highlighted at the time of her death and a clinical review has concluded that her death occurred within the timescale expected in view of her condition.
“Mrs Harrison was regularly monitored and received pain control medication.
“The trust places the highest importance on the safety and welfare of all patients.”