Page last updated at 21:05 GMT, Monday, 25 January 2010

Mother cleared of ME daughter's attempted murder

Steve Gilderdale said the verdict properly reflected his mother's selfless actions

A mother has been found not guilty of the attempted murder of her severely ill daughter who had ME.

Bridget Kathleen Gilderdale, 55, of Stonegate, East Sussex, was cleared of attempting to murder Lynn Gilderdale by jurors at Lewes Crown Court.

Gilderdale had previously admitted aiding and abetting the suicide of her 31-year-old daughter and was given a 12-month conditional discharge.

Miss Gilderdale was found dead at their home on 4 December, 2008.

The court heard how she had battled with ME for 17 years.

ME can lead to long-term debilitating fatigue, muscle pain and mental fogginess.

In Miss Gilderdale's case, she became paralysed and could not swallow.

'Caring mother'

After the jury had delivered its verdict, Mr Justice Bean said: "I do not normally comment on the verdicts of juries but in this case their decision, if I may say so, shows common sense, decency and humanity which makes jury trials so important in a case of this kind.

"There is no dispute that you were a caring and loving mother and that you considered that you were acting in the best interests of your daughter."

Earlier prosecutor Sally Howes was asked by Mr Justice Bean "why it was considered to be in the public interest" to pursue Gilderdale on the attempted murder charge when she had pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting suicide.

Ben Ando, BBC crime reporter

A slight figure with auburn, medium-length hair, spectacles and in plain, dark clothing, there was nothing remarkable about middle-aged divorcee Bridget Kathleen Gilderdale until she took her place in the dock in Lewes Crown Court.

Gilderdale, who is known as Kay, had listened intently to the legal argument and evidence during the 10 days of her trial though, as is her right, she had declined to enter the witness box herself and give evidence in her own defence.

After hearing both prosecution and defence agree that she was a devoted, loving mother who had shown unstinting care for her daughter over 17 years, the jury was quick to return a verdict of not guilty of attempted murder.

Another count, of aiding and abetting suicide, had been admitted by Gilderdale and for this she received a 12-month conditional discharge, among the most lenient sentences the judge could impose.

Ms Howes said the prosecution decided at "the highest level" to try Gilderdale after she told her GP and police she had given her daughter an air embolism with the intent to end her life.

Because a post-mortem examination found that Miss Gilderdale had died of a morphine overdose, her mother was not charged with murder but with attempted murder.

Following the trial Gilderdale's son, Steve, read out a statement on the steps of the court flanked by his mother and father, which praised the verdict.

He said: "We believe this not guilty verdict properly reflects the selfless actions my mother took on finding that Lynn had decided to take her own life, to make her daughter's final moments as peaceful and painless as possible.

"These actions exhibit the same qualities of dedication, love and care that mum demonstrated throughout the 17 years of Lynn's illness.

"I'm very proud of her and I hope she will be afforded the peace that she deserves to rebuild her life and finally grieve for the death of her daughter."

Jurors were told that after Miss Gilderdale made a failed suicide bid her mother crushed up pills with a pestle and mortar and fed them to her through her nasal tube, handed her morphine and injected three syringes of air into her vein.

Lynn Gilderdale
Lynn Gilderdale developed ME at the age of 14

The court was told the 55-year-old tried to stop her daughter ending her life but backed down after she told her: "I want the pain to go."

Jurors heard she was a loving and devoted mother who gave round-the-clock care during Miss Gilderdale's battle with ME.

She developed the illness at the age of 14 and eventually had to be fed through a tube. She communicated with her parents through a form of sign language.

The court was told she had attempted suicide in the past, placed a Do Not Resuscitate note on her medical records and had thought about ending her life at Swiss-based assisted suicide organisation Dignitas.

Mr Justice Bean asked prosecutor Sally Howes "why it was considered to be in the public interest" to pursue Gilderdale on the attempted murder charge when she had pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting suicide.

There is no sense of success or failure in this case, but we are satisfied that our role in the justice process has been fulfilled
Det Supt Andy Griffiths

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of charity Dignity in Dying, said the law made little distinction between the act of murder, euthanasia, assisted dying and assisted suicide.

She added: "Given that Lynn Gilderdale was mentally competent, made persistent requests to die and had an Advance Decision stating that she did not want to be kept alive, it seems that [Bridget] Kay Gilderdale's actions should have been investigated under the Suicide Act, rather than under murder law.

"Ultimately, the government needs to review the law in this area, as this case highlights at present the law is a mess."

Sussex Police Det Supt Andy Griffiths said: "This has been a tragic and desperately sad case for all concerned and our thoughts are with Lynn's family and friends at this time."

He added: "The moral issues surrounding the tragic circumstances of Lynn's death are not for us to comment on. Sussex Police has a duty to uphold the law and investigate offences reported to us.

"There is no sense of success or failure in this case, but we are satisfied that our role in the justice process has been fulfilled."

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