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Devoted husband spared jail after mercy killing'

PUBLISHED: 18:06 15 October 2008 | UPDATED: 09:13 12 August 2010

Free: Sidney Norton

Free: Sidney Norton

A RETIRED civil servant who suffocated his seriously ill wife with a plastic bag in a mercy killing walked from the Old Bailey a free man.  Sidney Eric Norton, 86, a resident at Bethlem Royal Hospital, Beckenham, killed his wife, Betty Norton, 84, after

A RETIRED civil servant who suffocated his seriously ill wife with a plastic bag in a 'mercy killing' walked from the Old Bailey a free man.

Sidney Eric Norton, 86, a resident at Bethlem Royal Hospital, Beckenham, killed his wife, Betty Norton, 84, after struggling to cope as her sole carer.

He told his GP weeks earlier they had agreed to die together after 57 years of happy marriage and on November 21 last year he smothered his wife while she lay in bed at University Hospital Lewisham.

Neighbouring patients later told how he drew the curtains around her bed.

Prosecutor Sarah Whitehouse said: "They heard the bed creak and crackle and a woman's voice could be heard moaning and saying 'No, no'. She was found dead soon afterwards and Mr Norton went home.

"He then phoned his niece and told her 'She's gone, I did it.' Fearing he was about to kill himself as well she called the police who found Norton still at home. He admitted he had tried to smother himself but had not managed it."

At the Old Bailey last Friday, the Common Sergeant of London, Judge Brian Barker QC, sentenced him to nine months imprisonment suspended for 12 months.

He said: "You had been married for 57 happy years and you have been described by all as a loving and devoted couple

"It is clear you were unable to pursue any interests of you own for the preceding two years and you were completely preoccupied with caring for your wife. It was increasingly difficult for you to shoulder that burden. I am totally convinced that you are a thoughtful, kind and honest man and have been a devoted husband. But taking any life is a great crime and there must be a mark of public disapproval.

"Your act must be marked by a custodial sentence. Society may understand your acts but they cannot condone it.

"However in my view there are proper reasons why the circumstances are so exceptional that a custodial sentence should be suspended."

Son Alan Norton, who was living in South Africa at the time of the killing, was in court for the sentence.

A statement from him read "He was and is a wonderful man who needs to re-establish himself and his life in his remaining years."

Norton will now move to a care home. After the sentence he stood in court and said: "All I would like to say is from the time this first happened, everybody that I met, police, people in court, have been so good.

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