‘Mercy killing’ husband freed

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A Sheffield pensioner who smothered his 75-year-old wife in a “mercy killing” has been freed from a two-year prison sentence.

George Webb, 73, was cleared in December of murdering his wife Beryl but found guilty of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

At the Court of Appeal on Wednesday, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, sitting in London with Mr Justice Eady and Mr Justice Simon, allowed his appeal against sentence.

The judges replaced the two-year prison term imposed at Sheffield Crown Court with a suspended 12-month sentence.

Lord Judge, who described it as a “tragic case”, said the court did not believe “in the unusual and particular circumstances” that the “principle of the sanctity of human life would be undermined” by the reduction in his sentence, which will be accompanied by a supervision order.

He added that it would mean “that this lonely old man may receive the help that he will need to come to terms with the disaster that has overtaken him”.

Webb, who has spent 90 days in custody - the equivalent of a six month sentence - was not present for the ruling.

Mrs Webb had a number of ailments - some real and some imagined - and had considered suicide for years, Sheffield Crown Court heard. She had begged her husband of 49 years to help her die.

Last May she attempted to kill herself with 34 lorazepam tablets washed down with brandy and fizzy orange. When Webb feared this had not worked, he smothered his sleeping wife with a plastic bag and a towel, the court heard.

Lord Judge said the jury concluded that he suffered from diminished responsibility at the time of the killing - that his mental responsibility for his actions was substantially impaired. The argument put forward on Webb’s behalf at the appeal was that careful though the trial judge, Mr Justice McCombe, had been in his approach to the case, “the end result was a sentence that was too long”.