Video report and words by ITV News Correspondent Ben Chapman
A week before Christmas, Lesley Hunter received a phone call she will never forget. Her uncle had told her that her mum was dead and her dad had tried to take his own life. Every day that has followed she describes as a "nightmare", as her father – who recovered – was charged with murdering his terminally ill wife. “He loved her completely,” Lesley told me. “It just breaks my heart to think they were together for 56 years and now this has happened to my dad. And I know my mum would be appalled.”
Her parents, David and Janice Hunter, had spent nearly 20 years enjoying a blissful retirement in Cyprus. But in 2016, Janice was diagnosed with terminal blood cancer.
During the pandemic, with limited access to healthcare, she had been in ever-increasing pain. “Speaking to my dad, she was in agony,” Lesley says. “Even now he’ll say he still has nightmares where he hears her screaming in pain because she was terminally ill and all she had was over-the-counter medication.”
Then in December, Cypriot police were called to the couple’s home near Paphos to find Janice dead, and David barely alive beside her. Lesley’s father has since told her it was a suicide pact they made together. “They’d agreed that my dad would help her [to die] and that he would then take his own life, because they wanted to be together, they wanted to go together,” she says. But her relief at her father’s survival turned to horror as he was taken into custody on suspicion of his wife’s murder. She says: “My dad is a good man, and I know how much he loved my mum. I know without a shadow of a doubt that he was doing what she wanted and what she’d asked for.”
Lesley makes a tearful plea for 'compassion'
At 74-years-old, David is now being held in Cyprus’ main prison while he awaits trial. He speaks to Lesley on the phone every day. “It’s a relief when I pick up the phone and it’s my dad,” she tells me through tears. “But at the same time it’s heart-breaking. “He’s old, he’s frail, he’s grief-stricken, he’s lonely, he’s frightened. I just want to bring him home and look after him. We need to be able to grieve for my mum. “I want my daddy to come home.” Lesley says that to begin with, David told her he still wanted to take his own life, to be with Janice and fulfil the promise he made to his wife. She says he is now doing better, but he faces a life sentence if convicted of murder.
His family and legal team have asked the Cypriot attorney general to downgrade his charge to one of assisting a suicide, which carries a maximum 10-year term.
But so far, their pleas have been rejected. Lesley says: “It isn’t in the public interest for my dad to spend the rest of his life in prison. “If they can just show compassion to a good man, let him spend the rest of time with his family, I’d be really grateful.” What happens to her father is being seen as something of a test case in Cyprus, where the issue of assisted dying is beginning to be debated by politicians. But the Orthodox church is influential on the island, and is strongly opposed, as are many Cypriots.
I ask Lesley what she would say to those who feel her father broke the law and should face punishment. “I would just say to people, life isn’t black and white. Life is many, many shades of grey," she answers “When people are desperate and scared and in pain, people make decisions you might not agree with. But a little bit of empathy can go a long way.”
David’s trial is scheduled to begin in June, and could take several months. His actions were, for Lesley, the ultimate act of love. “My dad would have done anything for my mum but it cut both ways. My mum would have done anything for my dad. “They loved each other so much, my mum would have rather stayed in the world in pain, in agony, rather than seeing my dad in prison.”