Thursday, December 1

Briton who killed terminally ill wife faces murder trial in Cyprus | assisted dying


Nothing in David Hunter’s life is as it should be. Six weeks short of turning 75, the pensioner remains in Cyprus but his home is a prison cell shared with 11 other men. At the other end of the Mediterranean island, Janice, his beloved wife, lies buried in a cemetery overlooking the sea. He has not been able to visit. Even worse, almost four months to the day after she died, he stands accused of premeditated murder with the prospect of spending the rest of his life behind bars.

“My dad loved my mum for 56 years,” said Lesley Cawthorne, the couple’s daughter, from her home in Norwich. “I absolutely cherished her. From beginning to end, when she was so ill and in such pain, he treated her with kindness, love and compassion. All we want is to bring him home.”

The battle to do that moves into high gear on Monday, when Hunter, a former miner from Northumberland, will be driven out of Nicosia’s central prison to Paphos, the southern resort town where he and his wife first sought their “dream life” abroad.

There, before an assize court, he will relive the events of the night of 18 December, events that his lawyers say amount to “assisted suicide”, but which, in a nation heavily influenced by the Greek Orthodox Church, have caused unease even if they have also helped lift the veil on a subject long considered taboo: euthanasia.

For months, Cawthorne said, her father had resisted her cancer-stricken mother’s pleas to end what had become excruciating physical pain.

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Janice Hunter was diagnosed with leukemia in 2016 and her health deteriorated after the outbreak of the pandemic. Difficulties accessing treatments combined with persistent diarrhoea and the gradual loss of sight had made life unbearable.

Fearing the same fate as her sister, Kathleen, who endured an agonizing and undignified death from the same disease, Janice begged for her suffering to end, said Cawthorne, a finance industry compliance consultant.

A week before Christmas, as his wife sat in her favorite armchair in a room full of decorations, Hunter acted: he took his wife’s head in his hands and, according to police, blocked her air passages until the deed was done. The septuagenarian then tried to take his own life by overdosing on prescription pills and alcohol. By the time the authorities arrived – alerted by Hunter’s brother – they found the ex-miner barely alive in their Tremithousa maisonette in the hills above Paphos. Janice was dead in her white leather chair.

For days doctors pumped Hunter’s stomach, against his will, until the Briton fully regained consciousness. When he did come round, it was to the knowledge that a moment’s decision, spurred by an alleged act of love, had changed his life forever.

But Derek Wickett, the couple’s neighbour, is certain of one thing. “They thought the world of each other,” said the mild-mannered Midlander who also retired to Cyprus after 40 years employed at the Fort Dunlop tire factory in Birmingham. “You’d hear Janice sing; she loved her vegetable garden de ella, ”he told the observer, popping his head over the wall between the maisonettes. “Then suddenly there was no singing. She was in such pain she couldn’t come out. It was terrible how it ended. We just hope they can get David home.”

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Hunter’s lawyers have appealed to the attorney general, the top legal officer in the former British colony, to intervene in what is the first case of its kind in Cyprus. Against a backdrop of opposition from the Orthodox Church and debate in parliament over legalizing euthanasia, the defense team asked that the charge be reduced to assisted suicide in line with legislation elsewhere in Europe. On Friday the request was rejected.

“We put together lengthy submissions … drawing on law and guidance from other jurisdictions explaining why a prosecution for murder is inappropriate in the circumstances of this case,” said Michael Polak, a barrister with the London-based legal aid group Justice Abroad. “These submissions have been rejected but no reasoning was given in the letter for this cause of action.”

The lawyers said they would continue to request that the prosecution take a “principled decision” so David Hunter could return to the UK.

In Ollie’s, a family-run pub near the palm-fringed cul-de-sac where the Hunters once lived, expats were reluctant to talk about an affair that has clearly cast a pall over the community. But genuine affection and respect for the Hunters were not in short supply.

“They were very good people,” said Petros Christofi, who presides over Tremithousa’s 1,300-strong community and rented the maisonette to the couple after they sold their Paphos flat to pay for Janice’s healthcare. “Ask Father Michael at the church, ask anyone here. They were liked by all.”

It was with a heavy heart, said Christofi, that he had testified to police on the night she died. “It’s clear she was suffering. It’s clear she was in pain. It’s clear this wasn’t murder and it’s clear our laws should change.”

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A wooden cross marks the hillside spot where Janice is buried. A flower-filled jug and bouquets lie across the freshest grave in the cemetery full of foreign names.

“Dad is obsessed with the idea that he needs to visit Mum’s grave,” said Cawthorne, 49, who said her own heart condition has prevented her from traveling to Cyprus.

“He feels it’s indecent and disrespectful that he hasn’t been able to go. It’s been impossible to grieve for Mum. All we want is compassion. We need Dad home so we can grieving together.”


www.theguardian.com

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