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Steven Morris @stevenmorris20
A father yesterday admitted killing his severely depressed daughter after claiming that she would have been put out of her misery if she were an animal.
James Lawson, who had discussed mercy killing with his 22-year-old daughter, Sarah, helped her try to take an overdose and, when this did not work, smothered her with a pillow.
Miss Lawson suffered manic depression for a decade and was obsessed with the Welsh rock band the Manic Street Preachers, especially the band’s missing guitarist Richie Edwards, Maidstone crown court heard.
She had a history of drink problems, had maimed herself and tried to take her life on several occasions, the last time two days before her death.
The court was told that her family believed that she did not receive proper treatment. Just before she died she was about to be admitted to a residential home but was was barred when she was allegedly caught smoking cannabis.
Lawson, a 52-year-old church-goer, pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. His counsel argued that he should not be jailed.
The court was told that Lawson tipped around 30 anti-depressant tablets into a glass. His daughter washed the tablets down with soft drinks.
Lawson then took his child upstairs, laid her on her bed and put on the ballad You Are My Hero. He lay down beside her, waiting for her to die.
Miss Lawson began to slip in and out of sleep. When she awoke she asked her father to go to an all-night shop and fetch some painkillers. Not wanting to leave the house, he went downstairs and found a plastic bag.
Lawson, of Worthing, West Sussex, tried to suffocate his daughter but it did not work so he placed a pillow over her head and pushed down with both arms.
At 4am Lawson rang the police and told them that he had killed his daughter. He told officers that he had spoken to his daughter about killing her and that they had both decided that it was “the best thing to do”.
He told detectives: “There was an inevitability about it. She had talked about it before and life seemed too cruel. Sarah said she wanted to die. She had got to the end of her tether.”
Phillip Sapsford QC, defending, said: “What Mr Lawson was really saying to the police was this. ‘I could not fail Sarah, like everyone else had. I had to do it and Sarah is now at rest’.”
He said Lawson had told him: “I arrived that night with Sarah in a no-hope situation. The family was failed by the mental health service.”
The court heard that Miss Lawson developed an alcohol problem after leaving school at 16. The first signs of her problems came to light when her family found an empty vodka bottle containing blood-stained bandages. She was prescribed Prozac.
Miss Lawson began to harm herself after guitarist Edwards’s car was discovered at the Severn Bridge in 1995. Though his body was not found, it is believed that Edwards, who once carved the slogan “4 Real” into his arm after being asked if he mutilated himself, had committed suicide.
She tried to kill herself in 1999 by taking an overdose of lithium. At this time Lawson, a builder, told his GP: “If Sarah was a cat or dog, someone would put her out of her misery.”
A week before she was killed, Miss Lawson’s condition became even worse. After slashing her arms, she visited a community psychiatric practitioner. The following night she tried to hang herself from a bannister using a cord from her dressing gown.
Next night she cut her arms again. The family made an emergency appointment with a psychiatrist at Worthing hospital. But the duty psychiatrist had no background information on her. He decided not to admit her.
Her parents called their solicitor pleading for help. He spoke to the psychiatrist who then admitted Sarah to a psychiatric wing.
Miss Lawson had been due to be transferred to a residential home on Good Friday last year but a hospital worker saw her allegedly smoking cannabis and she was thrown out. She died in the early hours of the next day. The postmortem examination on Miss Lawson revealed no trace of the drug.
Outside the court Miss Lawson’s mother, Karen, said: “Getting the right treatment for Sarah proved impossible.
Each day was like living on a knife-edge, coming home and never knowing what we would find – would she be dead or covered in blood and burns.”
She criticised the hospital for throwing her out after she was seen supposedly smoking cannabis. “I told them it was a dire situation and they would be giving her a death sentence if they discharged her. But still she was ejected out on to the street and six hours later Sarah was dead.”
Lawson, who is separated and has a son, Jamie, 21, will be sentenced next week. His counsel asked the judge to consider putting him on probation.
The case continues.