Son who aided parents' suicides to avoid charge
Published 20/03/2010 | 05:00
BRITISH prosecutors said yesterday they would not charge the son of conductor Edward Downes and with assisting his parents' suicides at a Swiss clinic last year.
Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer said it was not in the public interest to prosecute Caractacus Downes, who travelled to Zurich with his parents and booked them a hotel room.
The July deaths of 85-year-old Edward Downes, one of Britain's most eminent conductors and former maestro of the BBC Philharmonic, and his 74-year-old wife Joan, spurred debate about assisted suicide, which is illegal in Britain. He was blind and going deaf and she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer when the couple died at a clinic run by the group Dignitas.
Under British law, assisting a suicide is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, but courts have become reluctant to convict those who help ailing loved ones end their lives. More than 100 Britons have died in Dignitas clinics since 1998, and no relative or friend has been charged.
Last month, Starmer clarified the legal guidelines, saying each case would be considered individually and criminal charges would be less likely when assisting a suicide was motivated solely by compassion. This was the first case in which the new rules were applied.
Starmer said there was enough evidence to charge Caractacus Downes under the Suicide Act, but that it would not be in the public interest to do so.
He said Downes's parents had reached a "voluntary, clear, settled and informed" decision to take their lives and that their son had been "wholly motivated by compassion".
Prosecutors also said they would take no action against the couple's daughter, Boudicca Downes.