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Pensioner accused of 'mercy killing' of husband with lethal cocktail of drugs is cleared of murder and manslaughter

Telegraph Reporters
Mavis Eccleston, 80, was hauled before a court charged with murdering husband Dennis, 81, by giving him a drink containing prescription medication - PA

A pensioner accused of giving her terminally-ill husband a lethal cocktail of drugs in a "mercy killing" has been cleared of murder and manslaughter.

Mavis Eccleston, 80, was hauled before a court charged with murdering husband Dennis, 81, by giving him a drink containing prescription medication.

Jurors heard during the tragic case how she swigged back the deadly concoction herself in a bid to take her own life at the couple's bungalow in Huntington, Staffordshire.

A 14-page suicide note penned by Mrs Eccleston told how the couple were ending their lives because of "ill-health, harassment and neighbourhood tensions."

They were both rushed to hospital after being found unconscious by relatives on February 20 last year.

Mrs Eccleston was resuscitated in hospital but Mr Eccleston had a 'Do Not Resuscitate' order after having been diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2015.

Jurors were told how Mr Eccleston passed away while holding hands with his wife of almost 60 years in adjoining hospital beds later that day.

Prosecutors had alleged Mr Eccleston was unaware he was taking a potentially lethal overdose of prescription after Mrs Eccleston confessed to mental health nurses.

But Mark Heywood QC, defending, said it would not have been possible for Mr Eccleston to be given a lethal dose without him knowing, due to the "bitter taste".

Following a two week trial, Mrs Eccleston was today cleared of both charges by a jury of eight men and four women who deliberated for two hours at Stafford Crown Court.

The Crown had alleged the couple had not formed a "clear and common" agreement to end their own lives.

It was further claimed the overdose was a significant cause of the death of Mr Eccleston, a retired miner who had refused treatment for bowel cancer.

Prosecutor Tony Badenoch QC said: "The fact that it was a 'mercy killing' is contrary to the law in this country and doesn't afford a defence to her actions.

"There is of course, and has been for many decades, great public debate about this very issue but this case, and this court, is not the place to resolve the issue."

But jurors were told how a note written by Mrs Eccleston spoke of both their intentions to end their lives.

It read: "We Mavis and Dennis Eccleston being of sound mind have decided to end our lives because of ill-health and harassment day in and day out."

The court was told this was a "suicide pact" after Mr Eccleston was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer.

Mr Haywood added: "He made it clear he wanted to die on his own terms, in his own time.

"How could he have been given the drink with its bitter taste with no idea of what he was taking? It wasn't forced down his throat. Dennis knew what he was taking."

Giving evidence, mother-of-three Mrs Eccleston said her husband had "more or less begged" for her help to end his life and given her instructions how to do so.

She told the court he had kissed her hand in thanks before they both took medication and said "good night darling" as she went to lie down on the sofa.