‘Mercy killing’ pensioner freed on appeal

A SHEFFIELD pensioner who smothered his wife in a ‘mercy killing’ has been freed from prison after lodging an appeal against his sentence.

George Webb, aged 73, of Luke Lane, Wadsley, was j ailed for two years last month after he was found guilty of the manslaughter of his 75-year-old wife Beryl.

He smothered her with a plastic bag and towel while she was sleeping. He told the court his wife of 49 years had a number of ailments and begged him to help her die.

But Webb challenged his sentence at London’s Court of Appeal yesterday and the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, allowed his appeal - replacing the prison term with a 12-month suspended sentence.

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

He said granting Webb his freedom 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 spent 90 days in custody, was not present for the ruling.

Lord Judge said the jury concluded he suffered from diminished responsibility at the time of the killing - that his mental responsibility for his actions was substantially impaired.

Webb had developed a psychiatric condition, described as a “significant” adjustment disorder, and one of its prominent features was depression.

The judge said: “It is clear from the evidence that the mental turmoil engendered by the impossible situation in which he had found himself must have been dreadful.

“Cases of this kind are always unique. Each of them has its own individual and singular characteristics.”

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”.

It was argued that “insufficient allowance” had been made for the mitigating features.

Lord Judge added: “We recognise, as the judge was at pains to underline, that this is not a case of assisted suicide.

“It is a case of manslaughter.

“Nevertheless, as it seems to us, there are features of this case which bring it close to an assisted suicide.”