Mercy killing bid or attempted murder?
Court told of death pact between stroke victim and his lifelong friend
A man tried to suffocate his lifelong friend as he lay in a hospital bed as part of an attempted mercy killing, a court has heard.
Thomas Charles Hawkes (58), from Rosslea Way in Newtownabbey, walked into the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast on Monday and allegedly attempted to suffocate his friend William Cousins — a well-known loyalist.
Belfast Magistrates Court heard claims that Mr Hawkes, who is charged with attempted murder, was found in a hospital ward with one hand over Mr Cousins’ mouth and another holding the victim’s nose.
It also emerged during the proceedings that Hawkes took drink before allegedly going onto the ward and pulling the curtains around Mr Cousins' bed.
The court heard that a senior nurse went to investigate and allegedly found the accused attempting to suffocate him.
The court was also told that the two men had been close friends all their lives, and that Mr Cousins had suffered a stroke several weeks ago, which had left him in a vegetative state.
A Detective Sergeant opposed bail and said Hawkes told police when arrested that he was disappointed to have failed and would try again.
Defence counsel Mark Farrell said the case, believed to be the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, involved an attempt to assist in suicide rather than murder.
The barrister said: “There was a verbal agreement that the living defendant would finish off the crippled.”
According to Mr Farrell the victim — said to be also aged 58 — suffered a life-threatening stroke up to three weeks ago from which he may never recover.
He claimed Mr Cousins and the accused had talked about what to do should either be left stricken.
“The two of them bizarrely and strangely enough discussed the possibility one of them might be in a vegetative state two to three weeks before this coma struck down Mr Cousins,” Mr Farrell said.
The court heard a brother of the victim had previously suffered a stroke which left him unable to manage his affairs.
The court was told that following his arrest the accused stated: “I didn't get it right. I would have helped him, that would have helped me. I would do it again, I would do it for Billy.”
Mr Farrell argued that rather than attempted murder, his client should face a charge of complicity in suicide.
“This is an extremely unusual, if not unprecedented case,” he said.
“From the point of his arrest the case put forward is that this defendant was effectively going to engage in a mercy killing.”
A detective sergeant opposed bail due to the risk to the victim if Hawkes was released.
He said: “I don't think it's fair or conceivable to expect the hospital to put any form of further security on the injured party lying in a ward in a coma.
“It would be difficult for them to monitor visiting times, save bringing a police guard which is just not possible.”
The officer also outlined possible fears for Hawkes' safety if bail was granted, although he stressed the concerns were not due to any members of the victim's family.
He stated that Mr Cousins was a well-known loyalist and claimed “other individuals within the community” could pose a threat.
District Judge Joe Rice refused bail. Hawkes was remanded in custody to appear again via videolink on July 7.