Pensioner cleared of 'Midsomer Murder' but guilty of killing wife

AN ELDERLY man was yesterday cleared of the murder of his wife in a what a court heard was a "Midsomer Murders mercy killing" case.

Hugh Webb smothered his wife when she failed to kill herself with sleeping tablets after he had watched an episode of one of their favourite TV detective dramas Midsomer Murders.

In the episode, actor Timothy West played a character who killed his screen wife, played by Hannah Gordon, by smothering her with a pillow after giving her sleeping pills and fearing she would wake up.

A jury at Sheffield Crown Court took just an hour-and-a-half to find Webb not guilty of murdering his wife Beryl after a two-week trial but guilty of her manslaughter.

Defence counsel Simon Batiste said he would be arguing for a non-custodial sentence, either a community order or a suspended prison term when Webb is sentenced today.

Webb, 73, told police that his wife Beryl, 75, had begged him to help her kill herself after years of suffering from a range of ailments and he was of the opinion "she was not long for this life".

Webb had admitted his wife's manslaughter but denied murdering her in May this year. He told the hearing that his wife was "intent on suicide" and that killing her was "like a nightmare".

When the overdose failed to kill her he had to carry out the final deed himself at their flat in Wadsley, Sheffield, using a plastic bag and a towel over her face.

He said: "I thought 'How long is it going to go on?' I know that if Beryl woke she would never forgive me.

"She gave me specific instructions on that during our many discussions."

As he smothered her with a plastic bag and pressing down on her face with a towel she began to struggle and raise her arms.

Webb broke down and sobbed in the witness box and said: "It was like a nightmare. It was absolutely horrendous. I would not recommend anybody to do this."

The trial heard Webb claim his wife was the dominant partner and she had talked for years about taking her life before she eventually convinced him against his personal wishes.

Although Mrs Webb did have some illnesses, she imagined others and was suffering from a histrionic personality disorder which led her to over-dramatise her symptoms.

She had both kneecaps removed because of arthritis at the age of 49 which left her in a wheelchair or using 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.

She had written a letter instructing her husband to take her to a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland to end her life.

A note was also found saying she had "pressurised" him to help her go.

The prosecution said all was not rosy in the couple's long marriage and it was Webb who may have had a controlling influence over his wife.

Mrs Webb was an avid diary writer and one entry read: "Hugh terrible bonkers – in flat – wants me dead .. absolutely dreadful and I was feeling better – wants me dead."

Webb was granted conditional bail but refused to comment when he left court.