Northern Ireland news

Man who tried to smother dying father to prevent him suffering spared jail

James Weir leaving Downpatrick Court after his jail sentence was suspended

A pensioner who tried to smother his dying father with a cushion because he wanted to end his suffering has walked free from court after the judge suspended his 18 month jail sentence for two years.

Downpatrick Crown Court Judge Geoffrey Miller QC told 67-year-old James Weir that he was suspending the sentence “ having regard to the exceptional circumstances surrounding the case and bearing in mind that regardless of your intention at the time, the actual degree of harm was slight and had no bearing on your father’s death.“

The judge said while it was a “tragic case,” Weir’s actions in smothering his unconscious father with a cushion had been “deliberate and clearly carried out with the intention of killing his father, something he may well have achieved had the nurse not arrived in the room.“

Weir, from Manor Street in Belfast, had pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of his father James Weir on 24 November 2018.

The court heard that Mr Weir snr, who was 90 at the time and was a resident at Blair House Care home in Ards, was approaching “the end of his life” when his son tried to kill him.

Prosecuting counsel Laura Ievers said the defendant, who along with his brother had drunk a litre of whiskey and ten Guinness overnight as they sat watching their father, had been momentarily alone in the room when a nurse came in and saw him “holding a cushion over his father’s face.”

As the nurse took the cushion from him, “he said he was sorry she had to witness it but he thought it was the right thing to do for his father and that he couldn’t see him suffer any longer,” the lawyer told the court.

Mr Weir snr was taken to hospital and examined as a precaution and although he had not sustained any serious injury, he passed away two weeks after the incident.

Defence QC Niall Hunt said Weir and his father had not just been father and son but having worked together for many years in the Ormeau bakery, their relationship was one of "very close friends.”

“He has very loving and caring memories of his father,” said the senior lawyer.

The judge said it was clear their was no animosity felt towards the defendant by his family, indeed their attendance at court show the support and sympathy the feel towards him.

“Very few of us know how our lives are going to end and any of us who have witnessed, as this defendant did, a parent once so vigorous, coming to the conclusion of their lives in a situation such as this - it’s something that none of us wish for our own parents, our loved ones and not something we would wish for ourselves,” said Judge Miller.

Suspending the jail sentence, he warned Weir that if he reoffended he would have to serve the 18 months but added he had “little or no doubt such an eventuality will arise.”

Outside the court, Weir was hugged by his family and friends.

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