A British man accused of murdering his terminally ill wife in Cyprus is “terrified” as he prepares to face trial, his daughter says, as she voiced fears he will die behind bars if convicted.
David Hunter is due to appear in court on Thursday over the death of his 75-year-old wife Janice at their flat on the island last December.
She was allegedly suffocated by Mr Hunter who then tried to end his own life by taking an overdose but survived.
The 75-year-old former miner, who is originally from Northumberland, faces a life sentence if found guilty after a request for an alternative charge of “assisting suicide” was rejected.
Ahead of the trial, the couple’s daughter told Sky News her father is “haunted” by memories of her mother “screaming in pain” during her battle with terminal blood cancer and a catalogue of other health problems.
Lesley Cawthorne has now urged the Cypriot judges presiding over the case to show “compassion”, saying: “My dad is not a risk to society.”
She said: “My dad has told me what happened and I have no reason to disbelieve him or to think anything other than he’s telling me the truth.
“My mum made her wishes clear and my dad helped her.
“She just wanted it to end. She didn’t want to fight. She didn’t want treatment.
“She didn’t want a long, protracted death. She’d had enough and she just wanted to go.”
‘She couldn’t make it upstairs to bed each night’
Mr and Mrs Hunter, who had been together for 56 years and were teenage sweethearts, had moved to Cyprus 20 years ago after their retirement.
But in her later life, Mrs Hunter – a former corner shop worker – had been left in severe pain due to her health issues and her “quality of life was markedly diminished”, her daughter said.
Mrs Cawthorne told Sky News: “I didn’t really know how bad things were.
“My dad has since told me… they were very grim. She was in a lot of pain.
“She had rheumatoid arthritis which caused a lot of pain and affected her mobility.
“She had cataracts, she had a growth on her ovaries removed, she had her appendix removed, she had knee replacement surgery, she had skin cancer on her hands and on her face.
“She was in very bad health. It was kind of one thing after another.”
Mrs Cawthorne, who lives in Norwich, said her father had described her mother’s quality of life in her final weeks as “non-existent”.
“She couldn’t make it upstairs to bed each night,” Mrs Cawthorne said.
“They would very often sleep side by side in their armchairs.
“She had chronic diarrhoea and my dad would make her nappies out of towels.
“Because of the pain she was in, she couldn’t really sleep very well.
“She was finding it difficult to swallow so she was finding it hard to eat and drink, which obviously affected her energy levels.
“In the last few days her eyesight had started to fade.
“Things were very bad.”
‘It’s been a living nightmare’
Mr and Mrs Hunter were found at their home in the village of Tremithousa in Paphos on 18 December.
Mrs Cawthorne said she learnt what had happened from her uncle who told her that her mother had died and her father – who was in intensive care – had attempted to kill himself.
“I was devastated,” she said.
“It literally felt like the ground just went from under me.
“It was horrendous because at that point, I didn’t know if my dad was alive.”
Mrs Cawthorne said it took almost 24 hours before it was confirmed to her that her father had survived.
“It was really traumatic,” she added.
“I assumed the worst. I thought my dad had probably died. It was horrendous.
“Life has been horrific for the last kind of five months. It’s been a living nightmare.”
After Mr Hunter was charged with his wife’s murder, his lawyers wrote to the Cypriot attorney general to ask for the charge to be reduced to assisting suicide – but the request was refused.
Sharing prison cell with 11 men
Mr Hunter – who has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge – has spent more than five months behind bars awaiting trial in a cell with up to 11 other men, his daughter said.
She added that her father’s “emotional state of mind” is “very, very fragile”.
“He finds it really, really painful to talk about,” she said.
“He’s literally haunted in his sleep by memories of her screaming in pain (during her illness).
“He’s really traumatised.
“He misses my mum so much. Fifty-six years, it’s almost a lifetime isn’t it?
“It’s like he has a limb missing. He doesn’t really know what to do without her.
“He’s completely lost without my mum there.
“He’s in a very bad way.
“He’s very lonely… he’s frightened.”
‘He’s not going to survive 10 to 15 years in prison’
Mrs Cawthorne – who speaks to her father on the phone twice a day – is unable to attend his trial due to her own heart condition and her fear of flying.
She said he faces a mandatory life sentence if found guilty of murder, with legal group Justice Abroad saying the minimum term is 12 years.
“He’s not going to survive 10 to 15 years in prison,” Mrs Cawthorne added.
“He’s terrified… he’s very, very scared.”
The trial will be heard by three judges on Thursday and Friday, with further hearings expected over the next few weeks.
In a direct message to the judges presiding over the case, Mrs Cawthorne said: “I absolutely understand their culture and their beliefs and we have enormous respect for Cyprus because it gave my parents a wonderful retirement.
“But if they could find it in them to show some compassion to me and my family, and let me have my dad back, then I’d be enormously grateful because they would be doing my family the most enormous favour, and we’d be forever in their debt.”
Mrs Cawthorne said she hoped her father would be allowed to walk free from court following the trial and he could “spend the rest of his time” with his family.
“Miners don’t tend to make old bones,” she added.
“He spent the best part of 40 years down the pit. He not in the best of health.
“He’s not a risk to anyone. My dad is not a risk to society.”
Defence lawyers argue David Hunter should be cleared of murder
Barrister Michael Polak, the director of Justice Abroad which is supporting Mr Hunter, said defence lawyers will urge the judges to clear the Briton of murder.
He said he wrote a 14-page request, drawing on case law from around the world, arguing that Mr Hunter should not face a murder charge.
However he said he received a two-paragraph reply from the Cypriot attorney general rejecting the request, with no reasons given.
Mr Polak said he was “surprised” at the decision, saying: “It is quite clear to anyone who looks at the case that this is not a case where murder is the most appropriate charge.”
He said there had “never been a euthanasia case in Cyprus before”.
“It would great if the attorney general changed his mind with regards to the charging decision,” Mr Polak said.
“If he’s not going to do that, we’ll fight the trial and David’s very determined to fight the case.
“He doesn’t look at himself as a murderer.
“We don’t think David deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison in Cyprus. He’s a good man. He was with his wife for a very long time, they had a loving relationship for over 50 years.
“No one – even people in Cyprus I’ve spoken to – thinks he deserves to be on trial for murder.”
Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email email@example.com in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK.