Kay Gilderdale trial: second day

From the Brighton Evening Argus, 19 January 2009

The father of a bed-ridden young woman who died after being aided by her mother told a court today of his daughter’s determination to end her own life to rid her suffering.

Former police officer Richard Gilderdale said the effects of the chronic fatigue illness ME had robbed 31-year-old Lynn Gilderdale of any quality of life, describing it as “less than poor”.

After being struck down by the illness aged 14, she turned from an active, sporty child to a paralysed bed-bound young woman dependent on round-the-clock care.

Describing his daughter as his “best friend”, Mr Gilderdale said the cumulative effects of ME over the course of 17 years led her to describe her body as “broken”.

He said that during those years he and his former wife, Bridget Kathleen Gilderdale, known as Kay, gave unwavering support for their daughter right up until her death.

His voice breaking with emotion, he told Lewes Crown Court: “We have always stood side by side for Lynn and we continued right to the very end.

“Lynn always regarded us a team, that’s how she addressed us.” He added that both he and his ex-wife “fought every minute of every day for her” to improve her condition.

Mr Gilderdale told the jury of six men and six woman that their daughter developed a fear of hospitals following a “catalogue” of errors during admissions connected to her illness, including an episode where her lung was punctured.

The court heard that part of her fear was also fuelled by allegations that she was sexually abused by a “senior health professional” at a London hospital.

Miss Gilderdale disclosed the matter to her parents in 2008 and it was reported to the Metropolitan Police whose inquiries were continuing at the time of her death on December 4 of that year.

Jurors heard that Gilderdale passed two syringes filled with large doses of morphine to her daughter during a suicide attempt at the family home in Stonegate, near Heathfield, East Sussex.

When it emerged that the dosage had not achieved Miss Gilderdale’s suicidal aim, her mother searched the house for tablets which she crushed and administered via a nasogastric tube, the court was told.

In the hours that followed, Gilderdale, described as “devoted” to her sick daughter, is alleged to have given her three syringes of air through an intravenous catheter with the intention of causing air embolisms.

Gilderdale, 55, denies attempted murder but admits aiding and abetting suicide.

Miss Gilderdale was placed on a life support machine following her lung being punctured at the Conquest Hospital in Hastings in 2005 during a procedure to change her Hickman line, an intravenous catheter.

Mr Gilderdale told jurors that before she was taken by ambulance to a London hospital for life support, she beckoned him and her mother over to say, “Goodbye, I love you”.

After being unconscious for three weeks, she eventually made a recovery but the experience proved harrowing and she resolved never to be put on life support again, he said.

“It was the turning point,” said Mr Gilderdale.

“She said that she never ever wanted to be put on a life support machine ever again. She became more determined that she didn’t want to go into hospital ever again.

“She then started generally introducing us to the fact that she decided she never wanted to be resuscitated again.”

A Do Not Resuscitate note was placed on her medical notes under her own wishes.

She later went a step further and directed that a “living will” should be drafted in which she stated her wish not to be resuscitated or subjected to any medical intervention if her quality of life was too poor.

Mr Gilderdale said: “She knew it was very difficult to talk to me about that subject because no-one wants to hear it coming from their daughter.

“I always used to say to her that I was a coward because I listened to what she said and then she would always look at me with a knowing look in her eyes and say, ‘Look, it’s never going to go away, Dad.’

“Her feelings were that she had made up her own mind that she couldn’t carry on.”

He said he believed she had examined every eventuality, describing her as a deeply thorough person who meticulously thought through everything.

“She made it very very clear that if it was possible to make her any worse then she didn’t want any medical intervention at all – she would want to go,” Mr Gilderdale said.

Asked by defence barrister Fiona Horlick about her quality of life, he replied: “It was less than poor. She had no quality of life. She couldn’t eat, she couldn’t drink.”

One of the difficult consequences of the illness was it dashed her dreams of ever getting married or of having children, Miss Horlick told the court.

She added that one of Miss Gilderdale’s major fears was brain damage and being placed into long-term care. “Home was all she had,” said Mr Gilderdale.

“It was the only place where she felt safe and secure. She knew that everybody in the home environment would fight every minute of every day for her.”

He spoke of his daughter’s gratitude for her parents’ support, saying: “She said on many occasions that if it hadn’t been for her mum and her family she would have died years ago.”

Mr Gilderdale told the court that his daughter attempted to kill herself with a morphine overdose in mid-2007, when he walked into her bedroom to find her looking sleepy.

He said: “I asked her why and she said she hated her life. She could see no end to it and she would say, ‘I’m never going to get better’.

“I would always sit there and say, ‘Of course you will, just hang on in there’.”

Mr Gilderdale said his former wife was “always so positive” about their daughter. “Inwardly, I never admitted this, but I thought she was never going to get better,” he said.

As time wore on and more complications arose from her condition, Miss Gilderdale would regularly comment that her body had “broken down”.

In November 2007, Mr Gilderdale became aware that his daughter had contacted Dignitas, the Swiss-based assisted dying group.

She spoke to him about her contact but Mr Gilderdale said he was opposed to the idea of her using their services.

“I didn’t want the thought of my daughter going somewhere like that,” he said. “It was cold, it was heartless, she didn’t want that.”

He said the topic of Dignitas came up from time to time up until her death. Asked by Miss Horlick whether he or his ex-wife wanted her to die, he replied: “No, but equally no-one wants to see someone suffer.

“I said to Lynn ‘I understand why you don’t want to be here. I don’t want you to go but I understand’.”

Speaking of the devotion he and his former wife showed to their daughter during her life-time, he said: “We nursed Lynn way past the line that 99% of members of the public would.”

He added that one of the few items which afforded her privacy was her handheld computer which she used to contact other people with illnesses, such as cancer, ME and MS.

Miss Gilderdale used her handheld computer to access the Live Journal forum on which she detailed her desire to end her life.

In one extract, she described her “miserable excuse for life” and added: “I’m tired, so very, very tired.

“I can’t keep hanging on to an ever-diminishing hope that I might one day be well again.”

In another section, she told how she was “tired and my spirit is broken” and how she would grab an opportunity to leave the world “with both hands”.

Jurors also heard from Miss Gilderdale’s carer and former neighbour, Julie Cheeseman, who said her mother was “devoted” to her.

She said: “She couldn’t have got a better nurse than her own mum. She was very devoted to her.”

When Miss Gilderdale told her she had contacted Dignitas, Ms Cheeseman said she tried to talk her out of it.

“I told her that there is a light at the end of the tunnel but I just don’t think she wanted to be around,” she said.

“She just told me that she had had enough of her life and she wanted to die.”

Ms Cheeseman said Gilderdale would often cut short planned trips away from looking after her daughter.

She agreed with Miss Horlick when she said that Gilderdale’s daughter was the most important aspect of her life, saying she never gave up hope on her.