Driven To Kill His Sick Wife After Social Services ‘Abandoned him’

A pensioner killed his wife of almost 60 years in an act of mercy after social services abandoned him to care for her alone, a court heard yesterday.

Retired civil servant Eric Norton, 86, was struggling to cope with Betty, 84, who had Alzheimer’s disease.

He finally snapped and suffocated her with a plastic bag as she lay in agony in Lewisham Hospital, South-East London, suffering from a suspected stomach tumour.

Despite numerous phone calls by his son Alan to social services pleading for them to help his father, they had merely provided assistance with the shopping.

The Old Bailey heard yesterday that Mr Norton was under extreme pressure after acting as his wife’s sole carer for four years since she was diagnosed with dementia.

He washed, dressed and fed her and was effectively housebound as he could not leave her on her own for long. In the final year of her life she deteriorated to the point that she sometimes did not recognise her family.

At the onset of her illness, Mr Norton had promised his wife that he would not allow her to suffer at the end of her days.

When she was first admitted to hospital for tests last year after suffering stomach pain, he tried to suffocate her with a pillow – but didn’t have the strength.

He later told his wife’s GP what had happened, according to Alan Norton who has read a witness statement by the doctor.

But despite this admission he was allowed to care for her and given no extra support.

In November, after she was admitted to hospital for the second time after coughing up blood, he ended her life.

The grandfather then went back to their home in New Cross, South-East London, and tried to take his own life. He was stopped by police.

Mr Norton was originally charged with murder but yesterday the Crown Prosecution Service accepted a plea of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

The frail pensioner, who was allowed to sit in the well of the court, had to be helped to his feet by his solicitor and groaned with the effort as he stood to enter his plea.

Sarah Whiteside, prosecuting, said that on the day Mr Norton killed his wife he had been under an enormous amount of stress.

‘They had been a devoted couple for 57 years. He was her sole carer. On the day she died he was greatly disturbed and preoccupied at the notion that he might not be able to care for her one day,’ she added.
Eric and Betty Norton

Alan Norton, 53, a metallurgist in the mining industry, works in South Africa near Johannesburg.

He said: ‘Social services really should have been of more support for my father, who was clearly at breaking point. I feel this could have been averted. It is a terribly sad end to a long and loving relationship.’

Although Mr Norton lives abroad he travelled back to the UK as often as he could to see his parents. He visited them just weeks before the terrible incident. ‘I was not really aware of how bad the situation with my father was until the month it happened,’ he said.

The Daily Mail’s Dignity For The Elderly Campaign has highlighted the difficulties faced by dementia patients and their families.

Cybil Bland, 85, who played bowls with Mr and Mrs Norton at Blackheath Bowls Club in South London said the situation was a tragedy.

‘They were the perfect couple and absolutely devoted to one another,’ she said.

‘My generation was brought up with dignity and we should be able to die with dignity.’

Mr Norton was sent back to the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Beckenham, Kent, where he is being cared for. He will be sentenced on October 10.