A retired British miner who killed his terminally ill wife was today released from a Cypriot jail after 19 months behind bars.
David Hunter, 76, said he ‘didn’t know where he would be’ without his friends and former colleagues as he walked towards his freedom after nearly two years in custody awaiting trial.
The father-of-one was today handed a two-year prison sentence for ending the suffering of his childhood sweetheart Janice, 74, after she ‘begged him’ to end her life as she struggled with blood cancer.
But as ten months in custody is the equivalent of a year for a short sentence under the Cypriot justice system, Hunter was found to have already served his time by spending a gruelling 19 months in Nicosia Prison.
Speaking on the steps of Paphos District Court, a visibly emotional Hunter said: ‘I’d like to say thank you to all the people who’ve donated to me, and especially my mates and my workmates. I don’t know where I would be without them.’
The former miner added: ‘When you work in a colliery, you’re a family.’
Asked how he was feeling, Hunter said: ‘I can’t describe it. I’m sorry. I wish I could, I wish I could find words to describe it but I can’t.
‘When you’re under pressure for two years, not knowing which way it’s going to go.’
David Hunter, 76, was overcome with emotion and said he ‘didn’t know where I would be’ without his friends and former colleagues as he walked towards his freedom for the first time in nearly two years
Hunter waves and smiles as he walks towards his freedom after he was released from prison in Cyprus today
The 76-year-old was overcome with emotion and said he ‘didn’t know where I would be’ without his friends and former colleagues as he walked towards his freedom for the first time in nearly two years
Hunter outside Paphos District Court in Cyprus after he was released from custody by Cypriot prison authorities today
David Hunter leaves Paphos District Court in Cyprus after he was released from custody
Hunter smothered Janice in 2021 at their retirement home in Cyprus. Last week, he told the Paphos criminal trial how he took the heart-breaking decision to end her suffering from devastating blood cancer
Today Hunter made an emotional FaceTime call to his daughter Lesley Cawthorne, who had been nervously awaiting the result at her home in Norwich.
Ms Cawthorne, who launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for his defence and has tirelessly campaigned for her father’s release, said: ‘Speaking to my daddy was the most amazing thing. I feel like my heart has been put back together.
‘I thought I’d lost him for ever. I cannot believe it. It’s amazing.’
Michael Polak, the director of Justice Abroad, which is representing Hunter, said that in Cyprus a defendant will spend ten months in custody for every year that they are jailed – and can be released early due to good behaviour.
Hunter’s legal team confirmed the ex-miner had been freed shortly after Cypriot prison authorities officially calculated his release date.
The judges said they had taken Hunter’s clear criminal record into account and said the pensioner could ‘not be deemed a risk to society’ when handing him the two-year sentence.
During his highly emotive trial, Hunter told Paphos District Court how his wife of 52 years had ‘cried and begged’ for him to end her life as she endured agonising pain from blood cancer before he suffocated her at their home in Paphos in December 2021.
Earlier this month, judges cleared Hunter of murder and instead convicted him of the lesser charge of manslaughter, with Judge Michalis Droussiotis accepting he ‘loved his wife and took care of her’.
And delivering his sentence yesterday, Judge Michalis said: ‘Before us is a unique case of taking human life on the basis of feelings of love, with the aim of relieving a person of their suffering that came due to their illness.’
The judge also said Hunter’s clean criminal record, age and personal circumstances had been considered when deciding the sentence – alongside other similar cases which had taken place previously.
Michael Polak, of Justice Abroad which represented Hunter, said outside the court today: ‘We’re very, very pleased with the outcome today. This is what we’ve been fighting for over 12 months.’
He added: ‘It is a pity he spent so long in prison but he’s really looking forward to getting out and now this allows for him and his family to properly grieve.’
After suffocating the love of his life, Hunter called his brother, William, in the UK to confess to the killing – before saying he was going to take his own life with a drugs and alcohol overdose.
William alerted the police who dashed to his daughter Lesley’s Norfolk home and advised her to video call her father on December 18, 2021.
Harrowing footage shows Ms Cawthorne begging her father not to kill himself in the video call made moments after he suffocated Janice.
David Hunter with his defence team (right) and Michael Polak, the director of Justice Abroad, speaking outside Paphos District Court in Cyprus
Speaking on the steps of Paphos District Court, a visibly emotional Hunter said: ‘I’d like to say thank you to all the people who’ve donated to me, and especially my mates and my workmates. I don’t know where I would be without them’
David Hunter (right) with Michael Polak, the director of Justice Abroad, leaving Paphos District Court in Cyprus after being released from custody
A police van transporting Hunter arriving at Paphos District Court in Cyprus for sentencing after he was found guilty by Cypriot judges of the manslaughter of his terminally ill wife Janice
Lesley Cawthorne (right) is seen telling David Hunter, 75, ‘you can’t leave me’ from her Norwich home 2,500 miles away from the British pensioner’s retirement villa in Cyprus (left)
She screams down the phone: ‘Daddy remember how you walked me down the aisle and you said I was beautiful. I’m your girl. I’m your girl. You can’t leave me.
‘Daddy please, please daddy I beg you.’
Full transcript of Lesley Hunter’s conversation with her father
Lesley: ‘Daddy, daddy, just concentrate on me. Daddy concentrate on me. Daddy, forget about everybody else. Forget about everything else. Concentrate on me.
‘Not on her. Not anybody else, just me and you, daddy, you love me you know you do. I’m your girl.
‘You’ve always loved me. I’m your girl. I’m your girl, daddy. I’m your little girl.
‘Remember, remember when I was in hospital and you were in the lift when I came round.
‘And Daddy remember how you walked me down the aisle and you said I was beautiful. I’m your girl. I’m your girl. You can’t leave me.
‘Daddy please, please daddy I beg you. Daddy….’ Police officer: ‘Have you taken something David, because we can get someone to help?
‘David we don’t know your address but want to get someone to you…
Lesley: ‘We love you. We don’t care what you’ve done. we don’t care. We just want you safe. we love you so much ‘Daddy, daddy, we love you, love, we love you so much, so much, all I want is you safe. Daddy. Daddy.’
Hunter is seen slumped in a chair and barely conscious as his daughter says: ‘Daddy, daddy, just concentrate on me. Daddy concentrate on me.
‘Daddy, forget about everybody else. Forget about everything else. Concentrate on me. Not on her. Not anybody else, just me and you, daddy, you love me you know you do. I’m your girl.
‘You’ve always loved me. I’m your girl. I’m your girl, daddy. I’m your little girl.’
At a sentencing hearing on Thursday that was adjourned until today, Hunter’s defence lawyer, Ritsa Pekri, said his motive for killing Janice was to ‘liberate his wife from all that she was going through due to her health conditions’.
The court heard it was Mrs Hunter’s ‘wish’ to die and that her husband ‘had only feelings of love for her’.
‘There was no personal benefit for him,’ Ms Pekri added.
She described Hunter as ‘a quiet, family man that has never troubled the authorities’ and said witnesses spoke of him ‘looking after his wife during a difficult time of her life’.
The defence team said there have been no similar cases in Cyprus and so they had instead drawn from similar cases in New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
‘We believe the suitable decision drawn from these cases is a suspended sentence,’ Ms Pekri said.
State prosecutor Andreas Hadjikyrou argued that the Hunters’ case ‘was not one of euthanasia’.
Hunter told his trial, which lasted for more than a year, that his wife ‘cried and begged’ him to end her life as she suffered from blood cancer.
He broke down in tears as he said he would ‘never in a million years’ have taken Mrs Hunter’s life unless she had asked him to.
He showed the court how he held his hands over his wife’s mouth and nose and said he eventually decided to grant her wish after she became ‘hysterical’.
He was found not guilty of pre-meditated murder for ending the suffering of his childhood sweetheart earlier this month.
David Hunter, 76, smiles after he was released from prison in Cyprus after he killed his terminally ill wife
David Hunter (left) arriving at Paphos District Court in Cyprus for sentencing on Monday. He has now been freed from prison
David Hunter (left) is transported from Paphos District Court in Cyprus after he was found guilty by Cypriot judges of the manslaughter of his terminally ill wife Janice, who died of asphyxiation at the couple’s home in December 2021
Hunter leaving the Paphos District Court in Cyprus after his sentencing was adjourned
An apparent suicide note written by Hunter proved crucial in the British pensioner being dramatically cleared of murder.
What is ‘mercy killing’ or euthanasia?
A mercy killing, or euthanasia, is the intentional ending of the life of someone considered to be suffering severe and incurable pain following the person’s request.
Under UK law, the intentional killing of an individual, even if they are in considerable and incurable pain, is considered murder or manslaughter.
A mandatory life sentence of imprisonment could be issued in conviction of murder or manslaughter.
However, juries are generally considered reluctant to convict in cases involving assisted suicide given the nature of the circumstances where family members believe what they are doing to be the best thing for their loved ones.
With regard to Mr Hunter’s case, Cyprus does not have laws permitting assisted dying. However, the island’s parliament is due to discuss euthanasia under medical supervision when they return following the summer recess.
The trial was considered unprecedented in Cyprus for the concept of mercy killing.
A blue notebook and pen were found in his house with a message in it seemingly left for those who would find Mr Hunter and his wife’s bodies.
The apparent suicide note read: ‘My wife is in so much pain. She has asked me to help her, so we did this together.’
Hunter cannot remember the turn of events from the night due to his agitated state and the drugs overdose he took so it is unclear when he wrote the message.
The judges found there was not enough evidence to prove premeditated murder, also citing he tried to kill himself with a concoction of drugs after suffocating Janice.
Judge Michalis Droussiotis said following the verdict earlier this month: ‘He loved his wife of 52 years and looked after her during difficult times.
‘He did something he never before thought he would be capable of doing.
‘The immediate arrival of the police and the fact he was taken to hospital saved him.’
The retired Northumberland miner was forced to treat Janice for terminal blood cancer at home with injections due to Covid restrictions as she deteriorated in front of his eyes.
In her last days she was crying out in agony 24 hours a day, unable to move from their sofa or take painkillers as she pleaded with him to kill her.
He finally relented and took her life on December 18, 2021. Hunter went on to attempt suicide, taking drugs and alcohol with the aim of overdosing.
But medics managed to revive him before he was arrested on suspicion of pre-meditated murder – and he has since languished in a high-security jail in Nicosia. He has now been acquitted of murder but found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Mr Hunter’s daughter, Lesley Cawthorne, 50, says it ‘breaks her heart’ that her father has been left ‘destitute’ from trial
The cemetery where the grave of Janice Hunter is buried near their former home in Paphos
Hunter, who has been in custody for 19 months, told the court Janice ‘cried and begged’ him to end her life. Pictured: The grave of Janice Hunter
Hunter was released from custody today. Pictured: Janice’s grave on Thursday
In May, Hunter told the court how his teenage sweetheart was reduced to wearing nappies, was covered in skin lesions and could no longer stand from her devastating blood cancer.
Hunter said he was forced to treat his wife himself at home due to Covid restrictions as her health deteriorated and told how Janice was left crying out in agony 24 hours a day.
He broke down in tears as he told the court how he killed his wife after she ‘begged’ him for six weeks.
He said: ‘I don’t remember a lot of the last day. I went to make a cup of coffee and she started crying.’
He described how he went to the kettle and gripped the bench for support as his wife sat sobbing next door.
‘The next thing I knew I put my hands on her,’ he said, wiping tears from his eyes. ‘When it was finished, she was a grey colour. She didn’t look like my wife, and it was the first time I cried in many years.’
He described how he stood by her side and put his left hand on her nose and right hand over her mouth to smother her.
When prosecutor Andreas Hadjikyrou suggested that Mrs Hunter struggled and scratched him as he smothered her, Hunter told him: ‘She never struggled, she never moved. You are talking nonsense.’
Mr Hadjikyrou then suggested Hunter had planned to kill his wife and did not tell her, to which he replied: ‘I would never in a million years take my wife’s life if she had not asked me.
‘She wasn’t just my wife, she was my best friend.’ He added: ‘She wasn’t crazy, you haven’t seen the strain of the last six years, what she’s gone through.
‘The situation, the pressure. I wouldn’t like anyone to go through the last six months we both went through.’
The prosecutor responded: ‘Mr Hunter, there are people that go through much worse pain.’
Hunter said he didn’t tell the doctors of his wife’s suicidal wishes because she asked him not to, fearing they would take her into hospital. He didn’t tell their daughter because he didn’t want to ‘worry’ her.
After the cross examination finished, Hunter asked to address the judge. He told him: ‘My wife was suffering and she actually said, “I don’t want to live any more”, and I still said no.
‘Then she started to become hysterical. I was hoping she would change her mind. I loved her so much. I did not plan it, I swear to God.’
Hunter continued: ‘For six weeks she asked if I could help her. For six weeks I refused.’
Describing her agony, he told Paphos District Court: ‘She was lying down, she was in pain, suffering. I would do anything to help her. The last thing on my mind was to take her life. The last thing.’
Asked how the last few days were, Hunter said: ‘She was crying, crying, crying, begging, begging, begging.
‘She wasn’t taking any care of herself. The last two or three weeks she could not move her arms and had trouble with her legs, she couldn’t balance.
‘She was only eating soup, she couldn’t hold anything down. She lost a lot of weight. She lost so much weight that there was no flesh to put her injections in.’
He said in those final days he was ‘thinking about what to do 24/7’ before finally taking the decision to go through with it when she once more started crying out in pain.
Hunter said: ‘I remember that I had my hand on her mouth and nose. I don’t even know how I thought about it. I don’t know how long I kept my hands there for.
‘She did not attempt to stop me… I don’t even think she opened her eyes.’
After she died, he kissed her forehead and told her he loved her, before confessing to his brother who alerted the police. He said he cannot remember being arrested or giving interviews to police.
Hunter made his first statement in court last week and was visibly shaking as he gave evidence. He described how he took the devastating decision to end the suffering of his wife at their home in Cyprus
Pictured: David and Janice Hunter seen on their wedding day
The final two witnesses in the trial then took the stand, telling the court how Janice’s condition deteriorated in the last years of her life and how she became increasingly depressed.
Through it all, they said, Hunter remained a loving husband.
‘Janice often told us that her great wish was not to be taken to the hospital. And I think David made this possible,’ Helmut Kesting, a neighbour of the British couple, told the court.
According to the Cyprus Mail, Mr Kesting has lived with his wife in the island country since 2020. He described Hunter as a ‘quiet, reliable and reasonable man’.
‘He and Janice always were very helpful and friendly to us,’ he said.
Mr Kesting described to the court how the couple were very loving with one-another, saying they were very proud of the relationship they shared.
‘They invited us to their home and showed us a lot of pictures, photo albums of their past trips. I never heard shouting or fights. I believe they were in full harmony together,’ Mr Kesting reportedly told the court.
However, he said it was noticeable by 2021 – in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic – that Janice had become ‘more and more depressed’ having been ‘optimistic’ about her condition a year earlier.
He said that he and his wife had no contact with Janice in her final three or four months, as she did not wish to speak with anyone.
Earlier in the trial, Hunter told how he met his wife when she asked him for a dance at a miners’ hall party in Northumberland.
‘She came up to me and said, ‘You’re sitting in my seat.’ I hadn’t ever seen such a beautiful woman,’ he said.
From there, they were always together, he said, and they married in St John’s Church in Ashington in 1969.
Asked how their marriage was, he said: ‘Perfect.’ He told how he worked seven days a week in the mine to pay for their daughter to become the first member of the family to go to university.
He and his wife would visit Cyprus on holidays and bought a property there in 1999 before moving across two years later to retire there.
Hunter said: ‘The first 16 years before she got sick, apart from a few operations, it was absolutely fantastic.’
But Hunter suffered a stroke in 2015 and it was on regular trips to the hospital for his treatment that a doctor noticed his wife was looking very pale.
She was diagnosed with blood cancer and had to go to the capital Nicosia every week for procedures and injections.
As her condition deteriorated she asked to go to Paphos General Hospital because she couldn’t face the journeys, but when Covid hit it was closed and so they kept her injections in their fridge and self-medicated.
Hunter told how he called the hospital five times a day but there was no answer, and he was forced to travel to centres further away for help and supplies.
She had two 125 euro injections per week but started suffering side effects including diarrhoea, headaches, dizziness and nose bleeds.
Mrs Hunter’s haemoglobin levels were such that she was unable to take painkillers and was left in agony at home, unable to move.
In her last months she underwent a series of operations for skin lesions on her face and hands, as well as a knee operation and another for her collarbone.
Speaking after his hearing in May, Hunter told the Press he was happy to finally give his account after waiting for 18 months.
‘I got my say, this is what I wanted,’ he said. ‘To tell them things that they never even thought about.
‘For six weeks when she was asking me, it was 24 hours. She was my wife, my best friend.
‘The last six months, I wouldn’t like anyone to go through that. Prison is nothing compared to what we went though.’
I am Rakesh Sharma, I associated with Elite News as an Editor, since 2021. I take care of all the news operations like content, budget, hiring and policy making.