The wife and son of a 94-year-old man were arrested on suspicion of assisting his suicide because they were present when he deliberately took an overdose of prescribed medication, an inquest has heard.
Molly Snell, 90, and Richard Snell, 68, watched as Ralph Snell killed himself after osteoporosis left him with severe back pain and insomnia.
Richard Snell told the inquest in Winchester that he helped his father open a bottle of medication because he was not strong enough to do it, and bought him some chocolate cake and whisky to enjoy before he died.
He and his mother were at Snell’s home in Lymington, Hampshire, when he took the overdose in his armchair in January.
Richard Snell rang 111 to report his father’s death and the doctor who arrived said he would have to call the police. The pair were arrested by Hampshire police on suspicion of assisting Snell’s suicide.
Speaking at the inquest, Snell, from Somerset, said his father told him on 27 January that he wanted to end his life. “I said to him we should visit his GP and see what advice he could give him,” he said. The GP said he could not assist him because it was unethical and illegal, but prescribed him medication.
On the day of his death, Ralph Snell said he wanted to take his own life, the inquest heard. “Molly and I supported his decision,” his son said. “He went to sleep for two hours. He kept waking up every 30 minutes to ask if it was time yet.” Snell then took the medication.
“He was very quiet while he was doing it – he was determined to do it,” Richard Snell said. “Earlier that afternoon I had bought him some chocolate cake and whisky as a bit of a treat. We sat with him as moral support while he did it.”
The inquest heard Snell died in his armchair. His son said: “We sat calmly with him, I didn’t know how to feel. We didn’t know whether to call a doctor to come and confirm the death or to wait until the morning. We called 111 for advice and they sent an out-of-hours doctor to the house.
“The doctor called the police. He told us he had to call the police to help deal with the body and to ask us some questions. When they arrived they asked us about Ralph’s death and our involvement, and they arrested me and Molly on suspicion of assisted suicide.”
PC Stephen MacDonald told the inquest that Snell’s wife and son were sitting in the lounge when he arrived. “They appeared to be very calm. Ralph was sat in an armchair,” he said. “[Richard] told me that both he and Molly were present during the suicide, so myself and my colleague arrested them on suspicion of assisting a suicide.”
DC Kayleigh Rush told the inquest that the pair were released without charge. “They did not themselves initiate the suicide, but they were present when it happened,” she said.
Grahame Short, the senior coroner, concluded Snell killed himself. Addressing his son, he said: “I do understand your decision to support Ralph with his suicide.
“There is no doubt Ralph put both you and Molly in an extremely difficult decision. He died peacefully at his home with his wife and son by his side.”