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Woman took own life after becoming too unwell to travel to Swiss clinic

Woman took own life after becoming too unwell to travel to Swiss clinic

A retired professor killed herself at home after becoming too unwell to travel to Switzerland for an assisted suicide, an inquest has heard.

Professor Avril Henry, 81, was found dead in the bath of her home in Brampford Speke, near Exeter, Devon, on the evening of April 20.

Police had forced entry to her home four days earlier after being tipped off by Interpol that she had bought drugs not available in the UK from Mexico.

An inquest at Devon County Hall heard Prof Henry had openly spoken about her wish to take her own life and put her affairs in order before her death.

She had numerous mental health assessments which concluded she was not depressed and had full mental capacity, the hearing was told.

Prof Henry, who suffered from a number of debilitating conditions, was a member of Exit International, which advocates the legalisation of euthanasia.

John Tomalin, assistant coroner for Exeter and Greater Devon, reached a conclusion of suicide and described Prof Henry as "a bright, intelligent lady".

"Dr Henry seemed as if she was a lady who certainly knew her own mind," he said.

"She was a bright intelligent person, a retired professor. In later life she had suffered with a number of painful, debilitating conditions for which unfortunately there was no cure.

"Dr Henry appeared to start considering ending her life before she became too unwell. This goes back to November 2013 when she first spoke to her GP about this.

"In fact, she made no secret of her intentions and was assessed by her GP and psychiatrist on more than one occasion.

"The medical profession all concluded that she wasn't depressed, she had full mental capacity to make decisions about when and how she would end her life.

"The evidence to me is quite clear. Dr Henry set about a course of action that was intended to end her life at a method, a time and place that she decided herself."

A post-mortem examination found Prof Henry's death was caused by the drugs she had taken, which she had ordered online.

The inquest heard she suffered pain from arthritis and spinal degeneration, was doubly incontinent, and had persistent vertigo, deafness and sleep apnoea.

She had also been diagnosed with gastro-oesophageal reflux disease and asthma.

Her GP Stephen Vercoe told the inquest Prof Henry was intolerant to many medications, meaning it was difficult to prescribe effective pain relief.

In November 2013, she told Dr Vercoe: "Life is not really worth living any more but I am not depressed."

She continued to express her intention to end her own life, telling doctors in July last year that she wished to end her life at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.

On April 15 this year, police forced entry to Prof Henry's home after intercepting the drugs she had ordered from Mexico.

A quantity of drugs were seized but not her entire supply.

William Michelmore, her solicitor, told the inquest: "Two armed police officers smashed a glass panel in Avril's door and came into her house. She was very upset by the infringement on her personal space by the police forcing their way in."

She instructed Mr Michelmore to lodge a complaint with Devon and Cornwall Police.

Mr Michelmore said he had been aware that Prof Henry intended to kill herself for 15 months and discussed travelling to Switzerland.

However, she was not well enough to travel and worried that others who went with her could be committing a criminal offence.

"If she could have gone to Switzerland by herself she would have," he said.

On April 20, police and doctors were contacted by her internet provider, Zen Internet, after she phoned to ask for her account to be continued after her death.

Prof Henry, who never married and did not have children, informed the company she planned to kill herself at 7pm.

In a phone call to a GP, Prof Henry pointed out that suicide was no longer illegal following a 1961 Act, adding "tell them to call the dogs off", the inquest heard.

Dr Vercoe said: "Myself and several other medical professionals were well aware of Professor Henry's intention but we all felt she had mental capacity, was not sectionable and there was no further action we could take."

Following the call to Zen Internet, police arrived at the property with Prof Henry's cleaner Emma Healey and Mr Michelmore.

Prof Henry's body was discovered in her bath, fully clothed and covered with a blanket.

Police Constable Nic Holt found a small green bottle, a clear brandy glass, paperwork relating to her affairs and a typed letter headed "Suicide Note".

Paramedics confirmed the death at 6.40pm.