Devoted partner who took his dying lover of 33 years to euthanasia clinic Dignitas investigated by British cops

James Howley was by Helen Johnson's side as she passed away aged 59 at the clinic in Switzerland after suffering from an agonising lung disease.

But when the grieving 57-year-old returned to the UK, he was investigated by cops for six months on suspicion of assisting a suicide.

He told the Mirror: "The stress and worry was unbearable at times. I was at rock bottom. There were times when I thought I wouldn’t get through it.

"I was exhausted, fearing I would end up in jail – all for doing the right thing by the person I loved most in the world, so that she did not have to die an undignified and agonising death.”

Helen was diagnosed with a lung disorder in 2004 called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency that forced her to leave her job as a college lecturer.

In 2015 she made the decision to contact Dignitas and carried out all the research and payments herself.

James, who was in a relationship with Helen for 33 years, said she was in a "helpless situation" and was in "pain and suffering every day".

He added: "She said, ‘I’m not frightened of dying, but I am frightened about the way I die’.

"She had my support at every stage but said if I was uncomfortable with going she would consider going alone.

"We knew there could be a legal issue but there was no way I was ever going to let [her] be waved off at the door.”

When the couple boarded the train to Switzerland, Helen's lung capacity was at 15 per cent and she had oxygen tanks and nebulisers keeping her alive.

After spending their final hours together in a hotel, the pair made their way to the clinic in Zurich where Helen was giving life ending drugs to help her pass away "incredibly peacefully".

But in a devastating twist of fate, the couple's home in West Bromwich in the West Midlands was ransacked by thieves while Helen was ending her life in November 2016.

The callous raiders stole Helen’s computer containing cherished photos and wrapped the stolen items in “the last bed sheet she slept in”.

Neighbours raised the alarm and told police the couple had gone to Switzerland for Helen so she could end her life.

James was then quizzed by cops within hours of arriving back in the UK without his long-term partner.

He said: “Initially they were fine… The detectives said I had nothing to worry about. I told them I had a letter written by Helen outlining her decision and we had copies of all of her medical notes and letters between her GP and consultant. They just said they would be in touch.”

I was exhausted, fearing I would end up in jail – all for doing the right thing by the person I loved most in the world, so that she did not have to die an undignified and agonising death

But two months later, he was interviewed under caution and was investigated for six months until the charges were dropped in June 2017 after cops got hold of Helen's medical records.

James is now campaigning alongside charity Dignity in Dying to overturn the UK’s ban on assisted dying and has been in contact with Julie Smith, 48, whose husband Paul died in September 2016.

The 57-year-old had been diagnosed with cancer but died in agony as his GP said he could not provide medical records for him to send to Dignitas on “ethical and legal grounds”.

What is Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency?

The disease, also known as AATD or A1AD, is a rare inherited condition that can cause liver and lung problems.

Around 25,000 people in the UK have the genetic condition though most remain healthy so few have been diagnosed.

Sufferers are much more vulnerable to the effects of inhaling smoke or other toxic materials like dust, fumes or chemicals.

The condition increases the risk of lung disease including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

 

It costs around £10,000 for a person to go to Dignitas to end their life with the sentence for assisting a suicide up to 14 years in jail.

A West Midlands Police spokesman said: “The investigation was delayed because, despite West Midlands police requests for medical records, they were not made [available] until June last year.

“That month, it was decided that it did not meet the evidential threshold for prosecution and the investigation was discontinued.”



 

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