A terminally-ill doctor survived a suicide pact which killed his wife because the plastic bag he used to suffocate himself with was too small, an inquest heard today.
Dr William Stanton, 79, and his wife of 52 years Angela, 74, both pulled helium-filled bags over their heads while lying in bed together.
His wife suffocated but he continued to breath because his bag was too small and he was unable to fasten it below his chin to cut off the air supply.
When friend Nigel Taylor arrived at a pre-arranged time, Dr Stanton begged him to find a bigger bag so he could ‘finish the job’.
But former policeman Mr Taylor refused and Dr Stanton was later arrested on suspicion of murder. He was released on bail but died of cancer before the case was resolved.
Yesterday coroner Tony Williams recorded a verdict of suicide at the inquest into Angela’s death in Wells, Somerset.
He said: ”Nigel Taylor found Dr Stanton with a plastic bag on top of his head partially covering his eyes.
”He saw the body of Mrs Stanton with the bag fully over her head.
”Nigel Taylor said Dr Stanton asked him to get a bigger bag and bring it to him so he could complete the job of taking his life.
”Mr Taylor quite properly refused that action.”
The couple had been happily married for 52 years before their joint suicide attempt and have two daughters Jennifer, 48, and Susan, 44.
Their tragic suicide pact unfolded on September 29 last year at their cottage Kites Croft in the pretty village of Westbury-sub-Mendip, Somerset.
Dr Stanton had been given just six months to live shortly before the suicide attempt, the hearing was told.
After agreeing to end their lives keen geologist and caver Dr Stanton bought a canister of helium as he knew suffocating without carbon dioxide is painless.
The couple, who had earlier rehearsed their double suicide, placed plastic bags over their heads before Angela died of suffocation at 7.30am that morning.
However, Dr Stanton was unable to kill himself as his bag was too small and he was found lying next to the body of his dead wife desperately trying to attach it to his head by Mr Taylor.
The inquest heard how the couple had left a note on the kitchen table which read: ”Angela and I have taken our lives. We are upstairs.”
Police arrived at the £350,000 property at 8.30am before Dr Stanton was arrested on suspicion of murder and taken into custody for questioning.
However, he was released later that day on bail and died of bone cancer in January this year after he was diagnosed with the disease in 2006.
Daughter Jennifer gave a statement to the inquest saying that her mother had said ”Don’t be surprised if you get a call and we are both gone”.
A postmortem examination carried out by Dr Hugh White revealed that Angela’s cause of death was ”plastic bag suffocation”.
Coroner Mr Williams said that a police investigation determined the couple were of ‘sound mind’ and had jointly entered into a joint suicide pact.
He concluded: ”I accept Dr Stanton’s evidence as to his wife’s intent to end her life with him and I’m satisfied that there are no possible other conclusions.
”With all the circumstances it is appropriate that I record the conclusion that she took her own life.”
Two months after Angela’s death Dr Stanton revealed that he ”could not wait” to be buried alongside his wife at a woodland site on Salisbury Plain, Wilts.
He said: ”We thought, we have had a wonderful life and it was clearly coming to an end. Much better to go out on a high. Why let it be spoilt by all the pains of old age?
”Anyone sensible would say the same. We had rehearsed it beforehand. She knew exactly what to do and she did it. I didn’t do anything physically to help her.
”When I put the bag over my head it was too small. There wasn’t enough space for the gas to flow freely around my head.
”Although I found it hard to breathe, I was choking and that was wrong. It should have been easy. So I tore it off and tried again. I realised what the trouble was.
”I tried to find a bigger plastic bag but I couldn’t. Awful. Awful. That’s all I can say. I would rather have waited and done a proper job.”
Dr Stanton won his doctorate in geology and spent his career working in hydrogeology throughout the world including many parts of Africa and Portugal.
He returned to Westbury-sub-Mendip upon his retirement where he was instrumental in local projects involving caving and wildlife and won an MBE in 1993.
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