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Churchgoer is given a life sentence for ‘mercy killing’

12 June 2015


"Horrified": David Paterson's nieces, Vivienne Gumby and Maureen Kent, and his great niece, Nicola Emery, listen as Detective Chief Inspector Dave Ellis speaks to the media outside Teesside Crown Court, on Friday

"Horrified": David Paterson's nieces, Vivienne Gumby and Maureen Kent, and his great niece, Nicola Emery, listen as Detective Chief Inspector ...

THE family of a "pillar of the local church", David Paterson, who was murdered by a fellow-churchgoer as he lay dying from cancer, have spoken of the "horror" they felt at the actions of his killer.

Heather Davidson was sentenced to life imprisonment last Friday, and must serve a minimum of nine years before she can be considered for release, after she admitted murdering Mr Paterson, who was 82.

The court heard that she had suffocated Mr Paterson with a pillow, and that his body showed evidence that he had attempted to fight her off.

"He had previously firmly expressed his opposition to any intervention in the dying process, and at the care home he had never asked anyone to help him end his life," the prosecutor, Jonathan Sharp, told Teesside Crown Court.

"He was a communicant member of the Church of England, and had been a pillar of the local church since childhood, attending services there every week and taking an active role in church activities.

"As a devout Christian, he had strong ethical objections to euthanasia. He directed a [do not resuscitate] instruction on his medical records be removed. He said it would be God's decision and only God's when it was his time to meet his maker."

Before killing Mr Paterson, Ms Davidson had made an emotional call to a Macmillan Cancer Care helpline, in which she expressed a desire to put a pillow over his head, saying: "It's not for me, it's for him. That lovely gentleman that I have always known; he is just not even here. . . I can't bear it. If he was a dog he would have been put down months ago. . . I want him to be with his wife. I want him to be with all those lovely people that have died. . . Would it be really, really, really, wrong of me to allow him to go to where he ought to be?"

Passing sentence, Judge Simon Bourne-Arton said: "You must have known from all you knew of David Paterson he would not have wished for his death to come from your hand.

"He wanted to leave this world as God intended and decreed. As a committed Christian, you must have known he would not have wished to end his life in the way he did."

After the sentence, Mr Paterson's family described him as "such a strong character: great fun and outwardly very sociable; inwardly, he was an incredibly private and guarded person".

They said: "We all knew of, and respected, his deeply held Christian beliefs. We are - and Uncle David would have been - horrified that someone he classed as a friend, and who he thought shared his Christian values, would have acted in this way.

"She should have known he would have wanted it to be God's will when he died, and allowed him to do so in privacy and with dignity; she had no right to do this to him."

The senior investigating officer for North Yorkshire Police, DCI Dave Ellis, said of Mr Paterson: "The dignity he should have had in meeting death on his own terms was taken away from him by a woman he trusted as a friend, and whom he had helped in the past."

Mr Paterson and Ms Davidson had both been members of the congregation of St Mary's, Thirsk, in north Yorkshire. The Rector, Canon Richard Rowling, said that the church would not be making any public comment on the case.

In 2010, the then Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, issued prosecution guidelines for cases of assisted suicide. He said at the time that "the policy does not open the door for euthanasia or so-called mercy killings. They are quite different from assisted suicide, and fall to be considered as murder or manslaughter."

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