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Prosecuting mother for attempted murder in public interest, DPP insists

2 February 2010

Keir Starmer QC, the DPP, has defended his decision to prosecute Kay Gilderdale for attempted murder following the death of her daughter Lynn, a victim of ME.

Before a jury at Lewes Crown Court acquitted Mrs Gilderdale, the judge, Mr Justice Bean, tried to persuade CPS counsel to drop the charge.

Responding to his questions, Sally Howes QC, counsel for the CPS, said the DPP took the decision to pursue the charge in November.

Mrs Gilderdale, who pleaded guilty to assisted suicide, was given a 12-month conditional discharge.

The DPP said in his statement: “Mrs Gilderdale’s conduct, which began as assisted suicide, namely passing morphine to her daughter so that her daughter could commit suicide, progressed to attempted murder when Mrs Gilderdale herself went on to administer morphine and other drugs and to introduce an air embolism to her daughter after her daughter had lost consciousness.”

The DPP said that as a result there was sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.

“As the CPS assisted suicide interim policy makes clear, assisted suicide and attempted murder are very different offences,” he said. “Assisted suicide involves assisting the victim to take his or her own life.

“Attempted murder is a step further than assisted suicide because it involves attempting to take the victim’s life directly. It is a more serious offence.

“In Mrs Gilderdale’s case the jury rejected the allegation of attempted murder and I fully respect the verdict. I also recognise that Mrs Gilderdale was a devoted mother who acted out of love and devotion for her daughter.

“But the fact remains that where the CPS is satisfied that there is evidence to support a charge of attempted murder, the seriousness of that charge will very often mean that it is in the public interest to bring a case to court so that a jury can consider the evidence and return their verdict, as they did in this case.”

Rodney Warren, director of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, said he found it “particularly difficult to comprehend” the public interest in a prosecution for attempted murder, given the willingness of Mrs Gilderdale to plead guilty to assisting a suicide.

“It is a big step from assisted suicide to attempted murder, which would seem to suggest no desire on the part of the deceased to commit suicide,” Warren said.

“The severity of the offence does put it in the rare category of case where a charge is more likely than not, but it is clear that the DPP’s discretion remains, just as it does for a murder charge.

“Many defence lawyers have observed the prosecutor’s dilemma that usually it is safer to prosecute, because public criticism for letting someone off is considered to be a greater risk than incurring the criticism of the court on acquittal.

“The more serious the cases are, the more often this dilemma is clear. Here it was writ large and, quite frankly, the wrong decision was made.

“I am surprised that the comments of a very experienced judge were not taken more closely to heart by the prosecution.”

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