Belfast Telegraph

Man killed dementia-hit wife in 'act of mercy' before drowning himself

By Adrian Rutherford

An elderly man who suffocated his wife acted out of mercy to preserve her dignity at the end of a devastating illness, a coroner has said.

Bill Barbour killed his wife Anne (83), who was in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s disease, before drowning himself in a lake near their Enniskillen home.

Yesterday an inquest heard that Mrs Barbour’s condition had deteriorated badly in the six months leading up to her death in November 2009.

She did not recognise her children, could not remember basic details and was found wandering in a confused state in her neighbours’ garden.

Mr Barbour (89), a former teacher at Portora Royal School, had been her main carer.

The couple’s son, Dr James Barbour, described how, two days before they died, his father told him he may have to put Anne into residential care.

“I think he was checking with me that the end of the road had been reached,” he said.

Mrs Barbour’s body was found by Sheila Philips, a family friend who called at their Sligo Road home on November 24, 2009.

Their suspicions had been raised when Mr Barbour had not turned up for a chess club |meeting the previous night.

Mrs Philips’ husband, John, described how he found two sheets of paper stuck to the back door.

One said: “Dementia is too |degrading for anyone to have to suffer it unnecessarily. We lived too long.”

The note, written by Bill, said his wife was upstairs while he was in Rossole Lough.

Mrs Philips went upstairs and discovered Anne’s head covered by a plastic bag. Police diver Charles Cocksedge found Mr Barbour’s body face down in four metres of water the following day.

Coroner Brian Sherrard ruled that Mr Barbour had suffocated his wife in an act of mercy.

“Mr and Mrs Barbour were clearly a couple who were very conscious of privacy and very conscious of dignity,” he said.

Speaking afterwards, Dr Barbour said he believed his father was carrying out his mother’s wishes.

“My mother had made it fairly clear that if she became incapable of rescuing herself from a hopeless situation that she wanted to die,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“I think my father had listened to that and did what she wanted.”

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