A SON who smothered his elderly mother to end her suffering from dementia was jailed for 40 months yesterday by a judge who said the sanctity of human life had to be preserved.
Jeffrey Ash, 50, could no longer cope with his mother’s hallucinations, her failure to recognise him and the “onerous burden” of looking after the 83-year-old almost single-handed, a court heard.
Widowed mother-of-two Ellen Ash died in the house she shared with her son in Glasgow, just a week after being sent home from hospital.
In the early hours of 21 March, a passer-by saw smoke coming from the property and alerted the emergency services.
Firefighters made their way into the smoke-filled house and discovered Mrs Ash’s badly burned body on the living room floor. Experts said the fire had been started deliberately and bottles of turpentine and white spirit were found in the house.
Advocate depute John Scullion, prosecuting, told how Ash fled to London on an overnight bus but, that afternoon, walked into a police station and confessed, telling police: “I killed my mum last night. I smothered her, then I burned the house down.
“I could not see her suffering anymore. She had Alzheimer’s.”
In court, first-offender Ash pleaded guilty to culpable homicide and wilful fireraising.
When Ash appeared for sentencing at the High Court in Edinburgh yesterday, Judge Lord Pentland told him: “The primary concern in selecting the appropriate sentence is the fundamental principle of the sanctity of human life.
“No matter how difficult circumstances had become, you had no right – as you now acknowledge – to take her life.”
He added: “You will always have to bear the burden of guilt.”
Defence QC Donald Findlay said: “This is a case which can, with absolute justification, be described as a very sad matter.”
Ash was still going through “a grieving process” said the lawyer and recognised that he should be punished. “He took the life of the person who meant most to him in the world,” said Mr Findlay. “He is someone who has expressed huge guilt, huge remorse.” The lawyer continued: “He felt he should be punished, not for what he has done, but more for his mother’s sake.”
Mr Findlay asked the court to take into account the pressure on Ash: “He was left to do that which no son should have to do.”
Ash’s sister, living in the United States, had sent an unsolicited letter supporting her brother.
Mrs Ash’s son was her primary carer and although he received some help, he had repeatedly told healthcare professionals that he could not cope.
Mr Scullion said Ash had told police officers he had caused his mother to fall over. “He then covered her nose and mouth and leaned with as much pressure as he could for about four or five minutes until she died,” he said.
“He stated that he sat and cried for some time. He stated that he knew she was dead and that he then decided to set fire to the house to give his mother a cremation.”