Durham man given community order for strangling father

Image caption,
Ralph Stephenson, 86, suffered from Parkinson's disease

A Durham man who strangled his father as he lay dying in a hospital bed has been spared a jail sentence.

Ralph Stephenson, 46, from Stanley, asphyxiated his 86-year-old father, also called Ralph, at the University Hospital of North Durham last June.

Stephenson denied murder but admitted manslaughter at an earlier hearing. The judge said Stephenson was mentally ill at the time of the killing.

He was sentenced to a three-year community order.

A hearing at Newcastle Crown Court in March heard that Stephenson, of Tyne Road East, begged doctors at the hospital to give his father an injection to "put his life at an end".

The hearing heard that the Royal Mail worker's attack broke 10 of his father's ribs but he had never given police a satisfactory explanation for how his father suffered his fatal injuries on the night of 11 June 2009.

Marks on body

Mr Stephenson Snr suffered from Parkinson's disease and dementia and was admitted to the hospital from a nursing home on 21 May.

By 10 June, medical staff did not think he would live much longer, so his son - his only child - was called.

When Mr Stephenson Snr died the following night medical staff raised concerns about marks on the pensioner's body and alerted the authorities.

A pathologist discovered that he had suffered 10 separate rib fractures.

When Stephenson, an alcoholic, was arrested he admitted to detectives he had grabbed his comatose father by the shoulders and shaken him.

He said he squeezed his father's throat for 30 seconds and suggested that his father should be put out of his misery.

'Caring' relationship

The court heard the father and son had a "caring and affectionate" relationship and that he had been under a great deal of stress.

At the earlier hearing, Robert Woodcock QC, defending, said: "However horrific this case may have appeared there was nothing in the outcome that was by any degree motivated in a single ounce of malice."

Stephenson admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

After a brief hearing on Thursday at Sheffield Crown Court, the judge, Mr Justice Openshaw, imposed a three-year community order with a number of conditions.

He said Stephenson would be supervised for three years and this supervision would involve registering with a mental health team.

The judge also barred Stephenson from visiting his elderly mother at times when she was being dealt with by social services.

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