A PENSIONER was jailed for two years yesterday for smothering his wife when she failed to kill herself with sleeping tablets after watching an episode of Midsomer Murders.
Sheffield Crown Court heard that Beryl Webb, 75, begged her husband of 49 years Hugh, 73, to help her kill herself after years of suffering from a range of ailments.
A jury took just an hour-and-a-half on Wednesday to find Webb not guilty of murder, but guilty of his wife's manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
Sentencing Webb, judge Mr Justice McCombe told the court: "It cannot be thought that an unlawful killing committed in such circumstances can result in a sentence leaving the offender at liberty.
"To pass a sentence short of immediate custody, even having regard to the mitigation, would give a wholly erroneous indication that such killings do not warrant punishment and will not be punished by the court."
Webb said a polite "thank you" to the judge as he was sentenced, and waved to relatives in the public gallery as he was led away by a custody officer.
He will serve half of his two-year jail term before being released on licence.
Richard Mansell QC, for Webb, said Mrs Webb had reached an informed decision to commit suicide and her husband was wholly motivated by compassion. Furthermore, he had immediately reported her death to police.
Mrs Webb had had both kneecaps removed due to arthritis and could only get around in a wheelchair or on crutches. She told other people she did not want to carry on with her condition and was fearful the breast cancer for which she was treated in 2002 would return.
After the hearing Det Supt James Abdy, the investigating officer, said: "This has been a particularly tragic and challenging case for all of those involved. Our thoughts are with the family. It has clearly been a very difficult time for them. They have been left devastated by the tragic events."
Webb's solicitor, Tim Gaubert, who saw him in the cells after yesterday's sentencing, said: "He is disappointed that he has been sent to immediate custody but he understands, as he has understood all along, that this was always possibly going to happen.
"He is ready for that but it does not detract from the sadness of the whole case. This was an exceptional, very sad and very tragic case.
"Mr Webb is still grieving for his wife. It has been very difficult for him and his family.
"He understands it was a difficult sentencing exercise for the judge but we will be looking at appealing the sentence – although it is in no way a criticism of the judge.
"This area of mercy killing is not yet fully developed within the law."
The court heard Webb, who lived with his wife in a flat in Wadsley, Sheffield, was suffering from an adjustment disorder and associated depressive symptoms.