Advanced Search

Statement by Keir Starmer QC regarding the deaths of Sir Edward and Lady Downes

19/03/2010

Sir Edward and Lady Downes took their own lives at the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland on 10 July 2009. Since there was information to suggest that one or both of their children, Mr Caractacus Downes and Ms Boudicca Downes, may have assisted their parents to commit suicide, a police investigation into their acts took place.

A file was then passed to the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether any charges should be brought against either Mr Downes or Ms Downes under section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961.

After a careful review of all the evidence by senior prosecuting lawyers, it has been decided that there is no evidence to support a charge against Ms Downes and that, although there is enough evidence to charge Mr Downes with an offence under section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961, a prosecution is not required in the public interest.

In relation to Ms Downes, there is no evidence that she undertook any act in England and Wales that could have assisted her parents in committing suicide. Accordingly, there is no evidence to support a prosecution under the Suicide Act 1961.

In relation to Mr Downes, the evidence indicated that, while in England and Wales, he booked a hotel room in Switzerland for his parents' use before they attended the Dignitas Clinic and that he accompanied his parents from England to Switzerland.

We have considered carefully whether these acts can properly be characterised as assistance for the purposes of section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961. Whilst we recognise that some may take a different view, we are satisfied that, taken together, such acts are capable of constituting assistance. As Mr Downes fully accepts that he undertook those acts, there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction for an offence contrary to section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961 in accordance with the Full Code Test, as set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors (the Code).

Therefore, with regard to Mr Downes, it has been necessary to go on to consider whether a prosecution is required in the public interest. The public interest factors tending in favour of and against prosecution are set out in the Code and the Policy for Prosecutors in respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide (the Policy) that was published on 25 February 2010.

With regard to factors tending in favour of prosecution, it is clear that both Sir Edward and Lady Downes were able to undertake the acts that Mr Downes undertook on their behalf.

However, with regard to factors tending against prosecution, it is also clear that Sir Edward and Lady Downes had each reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to commit suicide.

In the context of those decisions and the steps taken by Sir Edward and Lady Downes to give effect to their decisions, the actions of Mr Downes, although sufficient to come within the definition of the offence, were very much only of minor assistance.

The evidence and information available indicates that Mr Downes was wholly motivated by compassion.

The police have confirmed that Mr Downes reported his parents' suicide to them through his solicitor and that he fully assisted them in their enquiries into the circumstances of his parents' suicide and his part in providing assistance.

There is information to suggest that Mr Downes has benefited financially from the death of his parents as a result of their wills. It might be said, as a result, that it is difficult to conclude that he was wholly motivated by compassion in giving his parents the assistance that he did.

The relationship between compassion and financial gain is considered in paragraph 44 of the Policy. There, it is recognised that a suspect may gain some benefit from the resultant suicide of the victims. The Policy states that the critical element to consider is the motive behind the suspect's act. If it is shown that compassion was the only driving force behind his actions, the fact that the suspect may gain some benefit will not usually be treated as a factor tending in favour of prosecution.

Having reviewed all the available information, we have concluded that this is a case where the only driving force behind Mr Downes' actions was compassion. Accordingly, we do not regard the fact that he stands to gain financially in accordance with the terms of his parents' wills as a factor tending in favour of prosecution in this case.

Having assessed the public interest factors in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors and the Policy for Prosecutors in respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide, we are sure that the public interest factors tending against prosecution outweigh those tending in favour. As a result, consent has not been given to the bringing of a prosecution against Mr Downes for his part in the suicide of his parents.

Keir Starmer QC
Director of Public Prosecutions
19 March 2010