In the Media

Jail for nurse who tried to kill friend for legacy

PUBLISHED July 10, 2006

A NURSE who tried to kill an elderly friend as she lay seriously ill in hospital was jailed yesterday for ten years.

Dorothea Andrews, 81, was recovering from major stomach surgery when she received a visit from her friend and former neighbour Donna Cumming. During the visit Cumming tampered with her friend?s morphine pump so that it delivered a massive dose of painkiller.

Cumming?s lawyer claimed that she had only been carrying out her friend?s wishes not to suffer any more. But the judge told Cumming that there was ?compelling? evidence that her motivation was not mercy but greed. Cumming was the sole beneficiary of her elderly friend?s will and stood to inherit her estate worth more than ?100,000.

The prosecution had alleged that Cumming was concerned that the inheritance would be eaten up by nursing-home fees if her friend was discharged from hospital.

Mr Justice Steel told the former nursing home matron that she had used her professional skills to try to kill ?an elderly, frail and vulnerable woman?.

He added: ?You made no attempt to undo the harm you had caused by summoning help. How much you were motivated by money remains somewhat obscure. But the prosecution case that money was a contributing factor was, in my judgment, an understatement.?

Mrs Andrews survived the attempt on her life in July 2004 because a cleaner noticed that she had fallen into a coma and alerted nurses in time for an antidote to be administered. Mrs Andrews, a widow, died of unrelated natural causes six weeks later.

Cumming was convicted by a jury at Exeter Crown Court. Yesterday the judge, sitting at Bristol Crown Court, said a ?particularly distressing? feature of the case was that Cumming had withdrawn ?4,000 from her friend?s building society account six days before the attempt to kill her.

The judge told her that she would have to serve two thirds of her ten-year sentence before she would be considered for parole.

He said he accepted that it was not a premeditated attack and recognised there had been a genuine friendship between the pair.

Cumming had claimed at her trial that she delivered the overdose accidentally and did not say anything to nursing staff because she panicked.

Ian Pringle, for Cumming, urged the judge to regard it as an attempt to relieve an old friend?s suffering. He said: ?They spent many hours and days together and Mrs Andrews treated Jessica, Mrs Cumming?s daughter, as the granddaughter she never had.

?We invite your Lordship to say that this was an attempt by Donna Cumming, a trained nurse, someone who knew this lady was dying, which she did some six weeks later of natural causes, to relieve her.?

Their friendship began when they lived next door to each other in Exeter the early 1990s and continued after Cumming moved to another part of the city.

The court was told that Mrs Andrews had such complete faith in her friend that the day before she signed over power of attorney to Cumming she told her solicitor: ?I would trust her with my life.?