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The BBC's Sue Littlemore
"Sarah's GP has said that in the last week she was let down"
 real 56k

Friday, 8 June, 2001, 14:29 GMT 15:29 UK
Manslaughter father speaks of agony
James Lawson
James Lawson said his family had lived through a "nightmare"
A father, spared jail after killing his suicidal mentally-ill daughter, has spoken about the "nightmare" he and his family suffered.

And his wife has said she intends to sue the NHS, claiming they failed to care for her daughter properly.

Father-of-two James Lawson, 52, got a two year suspended sentence after he admitted helping his daughter kill herself.

A statement from Mr Lawson said the last eight years had been a "nightmare" and that he is now anxious to "get on with his life".

Both me and my husband thought it is fitting that Sarah is at rest

Karen Lawson

'At rest'

His estranged wife Karen said she was delighted the court case was over and relieved at the sentence, but said she was very angry at the level of care Sarah had received.

"I believe everyone physically or mentally ill should have an automatic right to receive the correct treatment.

"It appears people with mental health problems have to fight for the care they need, which is not right.

"All of you know that Sarah found life intolerable, she said to me: 'I do not want to be here as life is black, I can see no future.'

"Both me and my husband thought it is fitting that Sarah is at rest."

Sarah Lawson
Sarah had suffered from manic depression since she was 12

Mrs Lawson said she was now launching a civil case against the NHS for the failure of care she blames for their daughter's death.

Mr Justice Nelson, sitting at Maidstone Crown Court, said he had to give Lawson a prison sentence as "society cannot condone his actions, even if it can understand".

Sarah said she wanted to die. Obviously she had got to the end of her tether

James Lawson

But he said he had decided to suspend the sentence because of the exceptional circumstances of the case.

Mr Justice Nelson said: "Your depressive illness, the stress of Sarah's own illness, her wish to take her life combined with the belief that you were helping to get her to peace makes this case out of the norm for manslaughter.

"I also accept that your judgement was impaired in the days before her death when it became clear that no help was immediately available."

But the judge stressed that it was not the place of the court to comment on the standard of care given to Sarah.

The court heard that Mr Lawson had helped Sarah, 22, take a drugs overdose, which failed to kill her, he then placed a plastic bag over her head before using a pillow over her face and his hand to suffocate her in April last year.

Manic depression

The roofer had denied the murder of his daughter, but changed his plea before the start of the trial to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

The court heard that Sarah had suffered from manic depression for more than 10 years and had a long history of self-harm and trying to commit suicide.

Lawson told police he had taken part in the mercy killing as his family could take no more and he felt the NHS had repeatedly failed to help their "funny, vivacious, and intelligent" daughter.

When police interviewed him after the death he told them there had been an "inevitability" over what had happened.

"Sarah said she wanted to die. Obviously she had got to the end of her tether. We were in the eye of a storm."

They wanted Sarah to be admitted to a secure psychiatric unit to stop her hurting herself and get the treatment she needed.

Hospital care

Miss Lawson was taken into the care of Homefields Psychiatric Hospital, in Worthing, the day before she died, but was ejected the next day for allegedly supplying cannabis to other patients.

The court heard that six hours after leaving the hospital Mr Lawson helped his daughter to die.

A spokesman for Worthing Priority Care NHS Trust, which runs the hospital said offered their condolences to the family.

Trust executive Richard Congdon said he was convinced Sarah had been offered "a compassionate, consistent and comprehensive package of treatment".

He welcomed the announcement that the local health authority is to commission an independent review into the events leading to Sarah's death.

Mental health experts said the case highlighted the need for a new Mental Health Act.

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See also:

02 Oct 00 | Health
'Brain link' to manic depression
15 Sep 00 | Health
Biological clue to depression
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