Two years for Sheffield pensioner in wife's 'mercy killing'

A SHEFFIELD pensioner who smothered his 75-year-old wife in a "mercy killing" has been jailed for two years.

George Webb, 73, was cleared of murdering his wife Beryl at Sheffield Crown Court yesterday but found guilty of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Today, Webb - who has grey balding hair and wears a hearing aid - waved to his family in the public gallery and thanked the judge who jailed him after the sentence was passed.

He then picked up his scarf and gloves before he was led to the cells.

The court heard how Mrs Webb had a number of ailments - some real and some imagined - and had considered suicide for years, She had begged her husband to help her die.

On May 14 this year she attempted to kill herself with 34 lorazepam tablets washed down with brandy and fizzy orange.

When Webb feared this had not worked he smothered his sleeping wife with a plastic bag and a towel, the court heard.

He stayed with her all night and called the police the following morning.

Mr Justice McCombe heard pleas from Webb's legal team to spare him from a prison term.

But the judge said: "This was an unlawful killing and Mr Webb's responsibility for it is diminished - it is not extinguished.

"It cannot be thought that an unlawful killing committed in such circumstances can result in a sentence leaving the offender at liberty.

"Mr Webb acknowledged in his evidence that he knew what he was doing was unlawful and that he fully understood the consequences.

"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."

He quoted the Court of Appeal saying any change of approach to such cases was for Parliament not the courts.

Opening his sentencing remarks, the judge said: "The killing of Mrs Webb was what has come to be called a mercy killing."

He recalled how Mrs Webb had suffered a series of medical setbacks in her life including having her kneecaps removed and beating breast cancer.

At the time of her death, she wrongly believed her cancer had returned and that another of her ailments was about to give her a massive, debilitating stroke.

The judge said she had suffered from histrionic personality disorder since the 1950s. This led her to exaggerate her illnesses.

But, the judge said, her husband came to share her delusions as they became more isolated in their flat in the Wadsley area of Sheffield.

A psychiatrist told the jury how they lived in a "cocoon" or "bubble", feeding on each other's depression.

The couple were married for 49 years and did not have any children.