Kay Gilderdale cleared of attempting to murder daughter with ME

From The Times Online, 25 January 2010 (Story by Steve Bird)

A “loving and devoted mother” who gave her acutely ill daughter a cocktail of drugs after handing her a morphine overdose was today cleared of attempted murder.


During a week long trial, Kay Gilderdale, 55, had admitted assisting her daughter, Lynn, in her suicide bid as part of a so-called mercy killing. She was given a 12-month conditional discharge for her role in the death and walked free from court. The maximum sentence for the charge can be up to 14 years.

Amid dramatic scenes at Lewes Crown Court, the jury of six men and six women took under two hours to return its unanimous verdict.

It was greeted by a round of applause from the public gallery, which included Gilderdale’s ex-husband Richard, 56, and her son Stephen. When the judge handed down his sentence there was another spontaneous round of applause.

Mr Gilderdale, who has stood by his ex-wife but gave evidence for the prosecution, wept as she was released from the dock.

Her 31-year-old daughter was said to have suffered an “unimaginably wretched existence” after contracting ME, a post-viral fatigue syndrome, 17 years before her death.

In December 2008, she persuaded her mother to help kill her because she could not take any more pain and her “body was broken”. Gilderdale gave her double her normal daily morphine dose which her daughter administered herself.

But when she awoke distressed, Gilderdale, a former nurse, ground up sleeping pills and anti-depressants and administered them to her youngest child. She also injected her with three boluses of air in an attempt to cause an embolism.

During the 28 hours it took Miss Gilderdale to die she researched suicide techniques, including visiting a website run by a euthanasia specialist. Telephone records showed that at this time she also contacted Exit, the right to die organisation. It was those actions that led the Crown Prosecution to bring an attempted murder charge. The pure murder charge was not pursued because toxicology tests could not prove whether the drugs or air injection contributed to her death from morphine.

The case has once again highlighted the complex issues surrounding mercy killings and terminally ill people’s right to die. The Times can now reveal how a judge felt that the Crown Prosecution’s decision not to accept Gilderdale’s guilty plea for assisted suicide and continue with the attempted murder charge was not in the public interest and “mumbo jumbo”.

Judge Richard Brown invited the lawyers to drop two charges in light of Mrs Gilderdale’s guilty plea, adding that he felt a trial would “not be in the public interest”.

Referring to her guilty plea to assisting attempted suicide, he said: “It is a serious charge that appears to address exactly what happened.

“Wouldn’t it be better to accept it now rather than let this defendant get tangled up in a messy trial for the sake of some legal mumbo-jumbo?”

The subsequent trial judge, Mr Justice Bean, then ruled that the charge of aiding and abetting an “attempted” suicide be dropped as it was “technical to a baffling extent”.

Even after the first day of the case, the jury was bewildered by the attempted murder charge – the only remaining charge – and sent a note asking for clarification.

Miss Gilderdale had been a healthy and happy child, who excelled at school as a musician and in sports. But in 1991, when she was just 14, she was struck by a viral illness which left her severely ill and bed-ridden at her home in Stonegate, East Sussex.

The ME became so severe that she even had to communicate through a special sign language with her parents, who had divorced. She went through the menopause at 20, lost half her bone density from osteoporosis and, on the few occasions she left her bed, was taken to hospital to be treated for potentially fatal infections. She came to rely on her mother’s round the clock care at their home.

Food and liquids were given to her through a naso-gastric tube and morphine for pain management was given by a timer-controlled syringe delivering around 210mg of morphine a day.

In 2005, a surgical procedure led to her nearly dying when both her lungs filled with blood. She was left unconscious for three weeks and in intensive care for a further three months.

Her family GP, Dr Jane Woodgate, said that episode led to her feeling her “body was broken” and she wished she had died.

In a “living will” drawn up by a solicitor she asked not to be resuscitated, adding: “I wish it to be understood I fear degeneration and indignity far more than I fear death.” It was at this time that she researched into the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. Her first suicide attempt from a morphine overdose failed after her father, a retired policeman, revived her.

On December 3, 2008, Miss Gilderdale summoned her mother to her room and begged her to help her commit suicide. She had already injected a syringe of morphine but, because she had developed a tolerance to the drug, pleaded for more.

For an hour, Gilderdale remonstrated with, saying: “This is not the time.” Her daughter was said to have replied: “I want the pain to go away. I don’t want to go on.” Eventually Gilderdale gave her daughter the morphine which her daughter injected.

Simon Clements, head of the CPS special crime division, said: “The decision to charge Mrs Gilderdale was made before the guidelines [more lenient rules for assisted suicide introduced by director of DPP in April 2009] were published. When the guidelines came into force the CPS lawyer considered whether they applied to this case and came to the view that they didn’t.

“Our case has always been that Mrs Gilderdale tried to kill her daughter. The state of the scientific evidence has always been unclear and we have never been in any position and are still not in a position to prove conclusively that she did kill her.

“The case has gone to the jury. The test which we applied in looking at whether it was proper or not to bring a case is if the judge withdraws the case halfway through, which he did not. As Justice Barker said last week, mercy killing has no place in law in this country.”