1. ITV Report

'Mercy killing' grandmother Mavis Eccleston cleared of murder says 'I'd do the same again'

  • By ITV News Correspondent Ben Chapman

A grandmother who stood trial for the "mercy killing" of her terminally ill husband has told ITV News she has no regrets, and would do the same again.

But Mavis Eccleston said her late husband would never have asked her for help in ending his life, if he had known the ordeal she would suffer after his death.

Dennis Eccleston was suffering from bowel cancer and died in February 2018, after he and Mavis agreed to each take a fatal overdose at home.

She was resuscitated in hospital, but within hours had been arrested on suspicion of his murder.

She was cleared by a jury last September, and is now supporting a campaign for an inquiry into the laws on assisted dying.

Mavis told ITV News: "I just couldn’t understand what I’d done wrong.

"All I’d been told was that I killed my husband and I’m going to prison for a long, long time."

She had been married to Dennis for almost 60 years.

When he was diagnosed with bowel cancer, he decided he did not want treatment, and wanted to choose the time of his own death.

The couple had talked about travelling to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to end their lives.

Mavis recalls, "He said, 'I’m having no treatment at all. I just die when I want to die. I’ll go the way I want to go'."

She added: "And I said, 'Well, if you’re going, I’ll go with you. We’ll go together."

Dennis and Mavis Eccleston had been married for almost 60 years. Credit: Family handout

As he deteriorated, Dennis began to stockpile his prescription medication and, after seeing him in pain one night, Mavis agreed to help him end his life. They both took an overdose.

"I kissed him on the forehead, and I said, 'Goodnight, God bless my darling.'

"And he said, 'Same to you, Mavis'."

"And I just lay down, and I don’t remember anything until I was in that hospital bed."

They were found at home by relatives and taken to hospital, where Mavis was given an antidote.

Dennis, who had expressed a wish not to be resuscitated, was allowed to pass away peacefully.

"I got hold of his hand and he squeezed it and I knew he could hear me because a tear came down his face."

Mavis was arrested on suspicion of her husband’s murder in 2018. Credit: Family handout

She continued: "We’d got all the children and the family around him, and that’s what he wanted. That’s how he wanted to go."

But within hours, Mavis was arrested on suspicion of her husband’s murder.

She was taken to a police cell, still in her nightdress, and held for more than 24 hours, before being charged.

She doesn't like to talk about the indignity of that time, or dwell on the stress caused by 18 months of investigation, and the eventual trial.

She is grateful for the jury’s acquittal, and said her husband would have been devastated if he had known what she went through.

But she has no regrets.

"I’d do the same again," she said, before adding: "I’d do anything to help my husband through the pain."

Mavis and daughter, Joy, are backing a new campaign called Compassion is Not a Crime. Credit: ITV News

Mavis and daughter, Joy, are supporting a campaign by the group, Dignity in Dying, to try to force a government review into the current, blanket ban on assisted dying.

The campaign, "Compassion is Not a Crime", features families who have been criminalised by seeking to support the wishes of a loved one to end their lives.

Mavis said: "I’m not the only one that’s been told they’ve murdered a loved one when they’ve just tried to take the pain away. Something has to be done."

The Justice Secretary said: "I have the utmost sympathy for all those going through the pain of watching their loved ones deal with life-threatening and degenerative conditions.

"Any change in the law around these terribly saddening cases must be for MPs to consider as a matter of individual conscience, rather than a decision for Government."

Mavis believes unless the law is updated, she will not be the last to pay a heavy price for honouring the dying wishes of a loved one.