Grandmother Mavis Eccleston cleared of murder of terminally ill husband

  • Video report by ITV News Midlands Correspondent Ben Chapman

A grandmother has been cleared of the "mercy killing" of her terminally ill husband, who died in a failed suicide pact.

Mavis Eccleston from Staffordshire was accused of murder and manslaughter after giving her David Eccleston a "potentially lethal" overdose of prescription medication in February 2018.

Her family have now called for a change in the law to allow assisted suicide in the UK.

Mr Eccleston, an 81-year-old former miner, had refused further treatment for bowel cancer. He had asked not to be resuscitated.

During her trial, his 80-year-old widow claimed her husband of almost six decades died after they both overdosed on medication.

Mrs Eccleston appearing at her murder and manslaughter trial. Credit: PA

But Mrs Eccleston survived after being given an antidote, later waking up in hospital. Her husband passed away in the days that followed, triggering a police murder investigation and her arrest.

Throughout the trial, she denied both murder and manslaughter charges.

Mrs Eccleston formerly of Huntington near Cannock, gasped and started to cry after the unanimous verdicts were returned following a two-week trial.

Speaking outside the court, Mrs Eccleston's daughter spoke of her parents' devotion: "Our parents' love for each other was so clear that hospital staff pushed their beds together so that Mum and Dad could hold hands and face each other during Dad's final hours."

She expressed anger at the "terrible ordeal" the family had been through waiting for the case to reach the courts: "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.

"He wouldn't have asked our Mum to do something that is considered breaking the law."

She concluded by thanking people for being respectful to the family and saying her mother will now spend her days tending to the garden.

What happened at the trial?

It was alleged by the prosecution the couple had not formed a "clear and common" agreement to end their own lives at the time they took overdoses in the early hours of a February morning.

A jury of eight men and four women was told Mrs Eccleston wrote a note before being found unconscious near her husband, which stated they were of sound mind and both wished to end their lives.

Giving evidence in her defence last week, the mother-of-three said she and her husband had prepared medication for the overdoses after he gave her instructions and "more or less begged" for her help.

Both husband and wife remained devoted to one another, their family say. Credit: Family Handout

After breaking down several times in the witness box, she told the court Dennis had kissed her hand in thanks before they both took medication, and had said "good night darling" as she went to lie down on a sofa.

During his closing speech to the jury, defence barrister Mark Heywood QC said Mrs Eccleston had immediately disputed what the nurses alleged she said.

The barrister also submitted it was a "fantasy" to suggest Mr Eccleston would not have asked his wife what medication he was taking.

The couple pictured with members of their family. Credit: Family Handout

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.

She told the court the next she remembered was waking up in hospital, where she stayed to hold her husband's hand at the time of his death.