UK woman convicted of 'mercy' murder of son

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

A woman has been convicted of murder after killing her son in an "act of mercy". The Old Bailey, a London court, heard that Frances Inglis, 57, injected Tom, 22, with heroin and gave her a life sentence.

Old Bailey
Image: Nevilley.

Tom had been injured in a street fight in July 2007 and was put in an ambulance depite his desire not to be hospitalised. The ambulance door was opened three times; the third time Tom jumped out and sustained injuries that left him in a coma. He became mute and dependant on 24-hour care. His only method of communication was to squeeze a hand.

Frances was told that if she wanted Tom to die legally then she could ask the High Court to allow his food and water to be withdrawn, so that he would starve to death. Frances told the court "I know Tom – no way would he have wanted to live totally dependent. I can remember saying I felt I would rather he go to heaven than to hell on earth. I know Tom would not want to live. He had lost his life."

"I couldn't bear the thought of Tom dying of thirst or hunger," she said of the idea of food and water withdrawal. "To me that would be so cruel, so cruel. To die slowly like that would be horrible." Instead she used the Internet to research Tom's condition and concluded that a heroin overdose would be the most painless method available. A learning disabilities worker with no convictions, she concluded two grams was sufficient to kill and began spending time in areas she believed drugs were on sale – outside the local station, job centre and needle exchanges.

Frances was determined to release Tom from his "living hell" and said she had "no choice" in the matter. "I asked myself what I would want," she said. "I would want someone to love me enough to help me die. That's why I thought heroin – a painless, peaceful death." She obtained her two grams and stole syringes from Tom's hospital before injecting him, but he was revived by nurses and she was charged with attempted murder. She was bailed but barred from contacting her son.

Fourteen months later she obtained access to Tom by posing as his aunt and placed superglue in the lock of his door, further barricading it with an oxygen cylinder and a wheelchair. It took staff thirty minutes to break in, by which time Frances had injected one of Tom's arms and both his thighs with heroin. This time he died.

Frances had left a letter to her family in which she talked of her concerns for her other two sons and dog, as well as the running of the house, expecting a murder arrest. On one bed she left a photograph of Tom as well as a prayer written by his girlfriend. Police also found older letter by Frances, one of which read "People keep saying Tom is not suffering. How can they know how he feels?"

She was asked if guilty of murder and attempted murder, to which she responded "I don't see it as killing or murder. The definition of murder is to take someone's life with malice in your heart. I did it with love in my heart, for Tom, so I don't see it as murder. I knew what I was doing was against the law. I don't know what name they would call it but I knew that the law would say it was wrong. I believed it would have been Tom's choice to have been allowed to die rather than have the intervention to keep him alive."

The jury "could not have had a more difficult case," according to Judge Brian Barker, but he told them nobody was allowed to override the law. Ten members of the jury agreed, but two sided with Frances, leaving a conviction by majority verdict. The jury foreman was greeted by cries of "shame on you" from France's relatives, for which they were ejected from the building. "We can all understand the emotion and the unhappiness that you were experiencing," Barker told Frances, later adding "You knew you were breaking society's conventions, you knew you were breaking the law, and you knew the consequences." He ordered her to serve a minimum of nine years.

Should the law be changed?

"What this case and a number of others have exposed," said France's eldest son, Alex, "is a need for a complete rethink of existing laws in regard to people that have been, and will be, in the same position as Tom. How can it be legal to withhold food and water, which means a slow and painful death, yet illegal to end all suffering in a quick, calm and loving way? It's cruel, inhumane and illogical... We have a duty of care to them and we should not allow this situation to continue. It should not be left to a wife, husband, mother, father, sister or brother to have to end their suffering, and be convicted for murder." Detective Chief Inspector Steve Collin, who was in charge of the case, flatly disagreed. "There's no such thing as a mercy killing in law."

"I want to say that all of the family and Tom's girlfriend support my mum 100%. All those who loved and were close to Tom have never seen this as murder, but as a loving and courageous act," said Alex.