Editor defends 'mercy killing' columnist after prosecution drops charges

The editor of the Birmingham Mail has spoken out on behalf of his columnist Maureen Messent after prosecutors said she was not to be charged for wasting police time.

Messent faced prosecution after police investigated claims she made in a front-page Mail article that she was involved in the "mercy killing" of an elderly relative.

Devon and Cornwall CPS brought the charge against the 67-year-old after a police investigation showed she had been covering a story in the West Midlands when she was supposed to have administered a lethal overdose of morphine to her relative in Devon.

"The investigation showed that she had been nowhere near her elderly relative at the relevant time and in fact was covering a story in the West Midlands, as revealed by newspaper records of the time," a CPS spokesman said.

But Birmingham Mail editor Steve Dyson told Press Gazette: "What does the CPS know? Maureen was the person who was there. Maureen was not wasting police time. They (CPS) agreed with that as they are not prosecuting her. Even if they had she would have been acquitted.

"Maureen has been stressed by this needless prosecution, but that aside she is fighting fit and will be writing her comment this week. I am now very glad that they have finally seen sense. Maureen is a fantastic writer and will continue in her current role."

The case was first listed at Torbay Magistrates Court, but subsequently transferred to Birmingham Magistrates' Court because Messent was too ill to travel to Devon. She was subsequently unable, through ill-health, to appear in court in Birmingham.

The CPS spokesman added: "The CPS has an obligation to keep cases under review, and when the defence presents new evidence, the CPS must take this into account. Following the receipt of medical evidence from the defence, the CPS in Devon and Cornwall reviewed the case and has decided not to proceed."

Messent was charged under the Criminal Law Act 1967 with making false reports by means of a newspaper article and a radio interview.

Writing in February this year, Messent claimed to have killed her terminally-ill aunt, Eileen O'Sullivan, in the late 1960s. She said she had decided to reveal the circumstances surrounding the death because of potential changes in the laws on euthanasia.

Writing in the Mail a week later, Messent added: "The week that has passed has seen me both regretting my honesty and, at the same time, telling myself that I was right to bring up the past in public to enrich a debate that many feel must be had."

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