David Hunter's first shattering interview after being freed from jail

‘Janice begged me to kill her’: David Hunter’s first shattering interview after being freed from jail following mercy killing of terminally ill wife

  • David Hunter, 76, told the Mail he sees Janice’s face as she died in nightmares
  • Over six weeks Mr Hunter’s wife ‘pleaded’ she did not ‘want to carry on like this’

His celebrations were as modest as he is unassuming: released from a Cypriot prison on Monday for the mercy killing of his desperately ill wife, David Hunter marked his freedom with a pint of shandy and a beef burger.

No champagne, no triumphalism — just the quiet relief of a man cleared of murdering the woman he loved most in the world.

David, 76, a retired miner from Northumberland, was sentenced to two years in prison for the manslaughter of Janice, his wife of 52 years, who had blood cancer, after she repeatedly begged him to end her suffering.

Freed after serving 19 months in custody, David told me immediately after his release: ‘I feel numb, a little bit dizzy. It’s hard to take in actually. It doesn’t feel real.

‘I’ve just called my daughter Lesley in England and we were both crying so much we couldn’t speak. Neither of us could say a word. We just managed, ‘I love you.’

‘The custody policeman hugged me when I got out and said, ‘Congratulations, David. You got the result you deserved. In the nicest possible way I hope I never see you again’.’

He chuckles, then there are quiet tears. There is an awful ambivalence about his freedom because he is also now consigned to a life without his adored wife. His wish is to remain in Cyprus, where they shared 16 gloriously happy years of retirement before she became ill, so he can be close to her.

Speaking exclusively to the Mail in a searingly honest and heartbreaking interview, he is frail now and depleted by his time in prison.

On Tuesday, he stooped to place a bright bouquet on Janice’s grave. It was a moment of affecting tenderness; his first visit to her burial place — he was in custody for her funeral.

‘I looked forward to going and dreaded it at the same time.

‘It’s a beautiful spot, a little way from the house in Tremithousa [a village four miles from Paphos] where we used to live and I’d like to get a little place there now, near the grave, so I can visit her every day, and when my time comes I’ll be buried next to her.

‘I still speak to Janice. I still tell her I love her and miss her every day. I say, ‘I don’t know whether I love you more or miss you more’.’

He smiles. ‘I used to call her my greatest treasure, because she was. In all the years we were together we never forgot a wedding anniversary or Valentine’s Day.’

Speaking exclusively to the Mail in a searingly honest and heartbreaking interview, David Hunter is frail now and depleted by his time in prison

He is still plagued by flashbacks to the terrible day in December 2021 when he suffocated his wife, before drinking a bottle of brandy and swallowing a cocktail of prescription pills so he could ‘go with her’.

He remembers the horror of it, countered by relief that he was liberating Janice from her suffering.

‘Over six weeks she’d pleaded with me. She’d said, ‘I don’t want to carry on like this’.’ However David continued to refuse to act.

Just before he suffocated her, he told her he loved her. ‘She just closed her eyes and said, ‘Give us a kiss.’ I kissed her on the cheek.

‘I’ve seen some awful things in my life, but the memory of her face as she died…’ He sobs, pauses, then gathers himself. ‘She went grey. Her jaw was twisted. I tried to straighten it. She looked nothing like my wife.

‘Those are the nightmares I still get. I see her face in those nightmares. And they are always so vivid. There are always lots of faces, all Janice’s face, and I turn round and think she is by me — but she’s dead. I can’t get those images out of my mind. She doesn’t, she didn’t, look anything like my Janice. Her face changed so quickly.

‘In life she had such a beautiful smile. It lit up the world.’

David first met Janice in his home village of Ashington, Northumberland, in the local pub

David Hunter told his mum that he had met ‘the most stunning girl you’ve ever seen’

When the Hunters sold their home in Ashington in 2001 to live permanently in Paphos, life settled into a happy routine

We talk about euthanasia, whether the act of deliberately ending a life to eliminate pain and suffering should be legalised and he says: ‘I’d like to see it become legal or at least debated, investigated. Janice was not going to get better and when you love someone so much — and they plead with you repeatedly to end their life — you make that terrible decision to put them out of their misery.

‘Janice was in such pain. She was saying for weeks, ‘Darl, I can’t fight any more. I want to kill myself.’ She was going through hell. I couldn’t bear to see her like that.

‘Of course, if we’d had the money and Janice hadn’t been too ill to make the journey, we could have gone to Switzerland.’

He is referring to the Dignitas clinic there, where doctors assist in suicides of those with terminal or debilitating illnesses, but in both Cyprus and the UK it is currently illegal to help a dying person, or one in acute pain, to end their life.

The Hunters’ tragedy is a compelling one. Janice and David, a miner for more than 40 years at Ellington Colliery, Northumberland — he worked from the ages of 15 to 55 at the pit — retired to Paphos in 2001. ‘We were so excited. It was like an endless holiday. The longest and best we’d ever had,’ he recalls. ‘It was a lovely life, paradise. And I wouldn’t swap those years for the world.’

We are talking at the Elysium Hotel, a stone’s throw from their first home in Cyprus. The hotel has a special resonance; it was here they’d come for celebratory meals, to the restaurant with its blazing sunset backdrop over a palm-fringed beach.

I ask him to describe her: ‘Bloody good fun,’ he says. ‘Beautiful, vibrant, full of life.’

David first met Janice in his home village of Ashington, Northumberland. ‘One night I was in the local pub — dancing upstairs, drinking downstairs — and Janice said, ‘You’re sitting in my seat.’ Then she said, ‘let’s dance,’ and we were never apart after that.

‘I told my mum, ‘I’ve met the most stunning girl you’ve ever seen.’ She was so beautiful.

David pictured with his wife Janice on their wedding day in 1969 after courting for about three years

‘I was 18, she was a year and four months older. We courted for about three years then in 1969 we got married. And I made her promise that if we’d had an argument we’d always kiss and make up before we went to sleep. And that worked for 52 years. I was always faithful to Janice and I never had the slightest inkling or suspicion she was ever unfaithful to me.’

But the early years of their marriage were marked by sadness. They lost two sons — one born prematurely, the other a full-term stillbirth. Then in 1972, to their delight, a daughter, Lesley, their only child, was born, ‘and I was so happy I was jumping through hoops,’ he smiles.

He and Janice wanted the best for their girl. ‘I worked seven days a week to put Lesley through university. She was the first in the family to go,’ he says.

When the Hunters sold their home in Ashington in 2001 to live permanently in Paphos, life settled into a happy routine. ‘We went to barbecues, explored the island.

‘I helped out at an Italian restaurant as a waiter, just for the beer and Janice would come in for a meal and a drink.

The couple lost two sons — one born prematurely, the other a full-term stillbirth before a daughter, Lesley, their only child, was born

‘We had quite a few Cypriot friends. Janice learned Greek: she could speak, read and write it.’

But by 2016 storm clouds were gathering. Health problems beset Janice. She’d already had two knee replacements and an appendectomy when she slipped and broke her collar bone.

Then in the summer of that year, David had a stroke. With typical stoicism he recovered. Lesley, in England with her husband and teenage daughter insisting he give up smoking and alcohol — which he did — to lessen his chances of a recurrence. ‘At one of my check-ups in September 2016, the doctor said to Janice, ‘You look white. Are you OK?’.’

Tests revealed she was lacking in iron and a course of daily injections was prescribed for two weeks.

Further tests disclosed a more intractable problem — she was diagnosed with myelodysplasia, a rare form of blood cancer in which bone marrow does not produce healthy blood cells. It can develop into leukaemia.

Dabid made Janice a promise that if they had an argument they’d always kiss and make up before going to sleep

Janice would need regular injections for the rest of her life to counter the symptoms — fatigue, weakness, bleeding, infections and pain — and boost her healthy blood cell count. David learnt to administer them into her stomach. 

But as their health insurance did not cover the cost — 460 euros for four syringes of medication, with injections twice weekly — they decided to sell their apartment and move to a rural rented property to fund her treatment. 

Then came the trial, imprisonment and their attendant costs. Today David, despite a lifetime of grafting, is almost destitute.

‘Janice didn’t want to sell our home and move. She was crying, but I decorated the new place and she grew to love it,’ he says.

‘And she was doing OK, not as tired as she was. We went to the general hospital in Paphos for weekly blood tests and if her haemoglobin count was too low they would increase the injections.’

But at the back of Janice’s mind was the image of her elder sister who died in 1987 of leukaemia.

‘We’d been to see her. She was bloated with no hair and you could see the terrible pain in her eyes. Eventually she died in hospital and Janice said, ‘If I ever get that disease I want you to help me die.’ But I never thought then that I’d see Janice suffer. I didn’t imagine she’d plead with me to help her die,’ says David.

Ten days before she died Janice was hysterical with pain and begged David again to end it

To compound their worries, Covid brought devastating setbacks. ‘The local hospital that supplied Janice’s medication closed. I couldn’t get hold of our GP for a prescription. I kept ringing and the phone would go dead. No one would answer. We were desperate but everything was shut, barred, and none of the doctors or specialists Janice had seen called to check if she was all right.’

David drove to hospitals, pharmacies and surgeries in a frantic and fruitless attempt to get a supply of medication but it was eight weeks before he secured it — by which time Janice’s condition was deteriorating. 

‘After Covid she seemed to get worse.

‘She said, ‘I’m sick of life. I’m not going to get better.’ She was having blood transfusions which gave her nose bleeds and a side-effect of the injections was terrible diarrhoea. She wore adult nappies. She was a proud woman and it was so embarrassing for her, but I told her I didn’t mind helping her — not one bit.

‘Her hair was coming out in clumps, the weight was falling off her. When she had her last blood transfusion they couldn’t find a vein and they put the needle in between her fingers. She was crying her eyes out. Her whole arm was purple.

‘She said she didn’t want another blood transfusion after that. She had such bad headaches, flashes of pain and her sight was going.

David drove to hospitals, pharmacies and surgeries in a frantic and fruitless attempt to get a supply of medication but it was eight weeks before he secured it 

‘She was dog-tired. One night she said, ‘I can’t manage the stairs,’ so I put her on my back and carried her. After that, for the last six weeks, we slept on recliner chairs in the sitting room side-by-side. I held her hand.

‘She ate very little, noodles, soup, and when she did she was sick and needed to go to the toilet.

‘The pain got worse. It seemed to pick on the points where she’d had operations. Her skin was covered in lesions. She couldn’t stand.

‘And that was when she started to beg me. She said, ‘I can’t fight any more. I can’t walk, I need help to go to the toilet. Nothing will get better. I want you to help me die.’ And I’d say, ‘No, no. We’ll just take it day by day.’

‘I kept thinking, ‘What do I do?’ I loved her so much and she was in such pain. Ten days before she died she was hysterical with pain. She begged me again to end it. I was hoping she’d change her mind. I was waiting for a miracle. It never came.’ 

It was a Monday evening in December 2021 when David ended Janice’s suffering, suffocating her then taking all the prescription medicines he could find in the house.

It was a Monday evening in December 2021 when David ended Janice’s suffering, suffocating her then taking all the prescription medicines he could find in the house

‘I intended to kill myself too. I left a suicide note but I don’t even remember writing it.

‘There are parts of that day that are just blank. But the note was read in court, ‘My wife is in so much pain. She has asked me to help her, so we did this together.’ 

‘I knew I couldn’t live without her. So I kissed her and when I knew she was dead I kissed her one more time. 

I said, ‘Bye darling. I’ll see you soon.’ 

‘She had a saying, ‘Until the next time.’ She was a bit psychic — she believed there was another life. There was some magic about her.’ 

He recalls the next steps, how he intended to join his beloved Janice: ‘And then I got every bottle of pills in the house — blood pressure tablets, painkillers, anything I could find — and put them in a tumbler, then swallowed them down with a full bottle of brandy.

‘I hadn’t drunk alcohol for six years, since my stroke, and it hit me hard. I really wanted to die.’ 

Before he did so, he wanted a ‘last word’ with his brother William in England — his junior by ten years — whom he video called. 

‘We were very close. I didn’t want to phone Lesley because it would have killed her to know what I’d done, but I phoned and just talked to William,’ he said.

David has no recollection of what he said to his brother — the drugs and alcohol were taking their toll — but we know that William phoned Manchester police who, in turn, contacted Interpol, who then alerted Cypriot police. 

William also contacted Lesley, who video-called David in great distress, pleading with him to stay alive for her sake, telling him: ‘We really love you, Daddy. We do not care what you’ve done. We just want you safe.’ 

Within an hour, police had arrived at David’s door and his plan to join Janice was thwarted. 

Instead, he was to face a charge of murdering her. 

To make a donation to Lesley Cawthorne’s fundraiser to cover David’s legal bills visit: crowdjustice.com/case/helpbring-david-home/

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