A GAMBLING addict who tried to suffocate his ill wife and also stole £20,000 from her and his frail mother-in-law has been spared jail after a judge said it was right to extend a degree of mercy to him.

Douglas Miller was originally charged with attempted murder after placing a pillow over the head of his wife, an MS sufferer.

But the charge against the 45-year-old, who subsequently lost a leg in a hit-and-run accident, was not proceeded with in the “public interest” after he admitted a much lesser offence of common assault.

The Northern Echo: MERCY: Douglas Miller, previously of Murray Place, Chester-le-Street, who has been spared jail after attacking his wife whom he cared for and stealing £20,000. Picture: GLEN MINIKIN

Douglas Miller, previously of Murray Place, Chester-le-Street, who has been spared jail. Picture: GLEN MINIKIN

Teesside Crown Court heard that Miller, who lived with his wife in Murray Place, Chester-le-Street, County Durham, was her full-time carer and stole from her to fund an addiction to slot machines.

Shortly before the attack on January 12 last year the woman had become suspicious that cash was going missing from bank accounts belonging to her and her mother, over whom she had power of attorney because of her dementia.

Prosecutor, Rosalind Scott-Bell said the woman’s bank log-in details stopped working and she was no longer receiving bank statements.

A meeting with the bank was arranged, which Miller subsequently told her had been cancelled.

At about 8.30am on January 12 an incident occurred at the couple’s home in which Miller put a pillow over the woman’s head and pressed down with his weight on it.

Mrs Scott-Bell said the victim tried to shout out, but couldn’t, and it was only when the couple’s dog licked Miller’s hand that he stopped and lifted his weight off her.

Asked what he was doing, Miller replied: “I have done nothing and I am not going to be accused of anything.”

Police were called and Miller, who now lives in Hull, was arrested. Thefts from two accounts belonging to the woman and one belonging to her mother were later discovered.

A cash card that had gone missing was found in the defendant’s wallet which had been hidden in the couple’s home.

At first the defendant claimed he had only “borrowed” £400 from his mother-in-law’s account and nothing else.

But he later pleaded guilty to theft and Mrs Scott-Bell said the basis of his pleas were that £10,000 each had been taken from both the woman and her mother.

She said suspicions were aroused when the woman discovered her credit card had been used to withdraw cash, something she never did.

When he was arrested Miller said he had not tried to suffocate his wife. He said he was “not short of money” and only gambled what he could afford.

He also said there was no respite from being his wife’s carer.

The mother-of-three, who married Miller in November 1994 and whose children are from a previous relationship, said in a witness statement: “I have lived a lie for the past 20 years.”

She said she felt betrayed by what Miller had done and that her mother treated him like a son.

She said: “It is despicable and unforgiveable for him to treat a woman with dementia like that.”

The woman said her health had deteriorated because of the stress she had suffered and she wished no further contact with Miller, adding: “My life with him is over.” They are now divorcing.

Mrs Scott-Bell said Miller’s offending represented a breach of a high degree of trust and responsibility and he had also deliberately targeted the older victim because of her vulnerability.

Tony Davies, mitigating, said Miller wished to apologise to the victims.

He said: “This is a man who has devoted his life to caring for his wife. This represents a breach of trust and the ultimate punishment is that he has lost his wife, his home and has been exiled, living in Hull.”

The barrister explained how Miller had subsequently been involved in a hit-and-run accident which was not his fault and had a leg amputated. His shoulder was also said to be in a permanent state of dislocation.

Mr Davies said: “He is on a vast amount of medication and his daily existence is difficult to manage.”

The court was told that Miller had no previous convictions, had taken steps to address his gambling habit and any income he had – approximately £724 a month – was largely made up of benefits, although he did have a modest sum available to pay compensation.

The judge, Stephen Ashurst, described it as a highly unusual case with exceptional features.

Describing the attack, he said the victim “thought her number was up”, and the thefts he labelled as disgraceful.

The judge said a “merciful view” had been taken over the charges in the case and with lawyers having considered the evidence it was felt that it could not be put to a jury that Miller was intending to kill his wife.

He drew a contrast between attempted murder, which carries a maximum sentence of life and common assault, which carries a maximum of six months jail.

Judge Ashurst said the loss of Miller’s leg, together with a danger that he could lose his other because of vascular problems, was a far more draconian punishment that what the courts could offer.

He said there was a strong likelihood that Miller would be compensated because of his accident injuries and this could be deployed to the victims, although there were other avenues – for example the civil courts – in which to pursue this.

The judge gave Miller a two-year prison sentence, suspended for two years, and said: “It is sometimes believed that suspended sentences allow people to leave a court without consequences.

“It seems to me that in this case events have overtaken your criminality. This is the right sentence to pass to extend a degree of mercy to you.”

Miller, who was sentenced via a video link, was made subject to a restraining order until further notice meaning he cannot contact his wife by any means nor go within 100 metres of her address.

A formal not guilty verdict was returned on the attempt murder charge after no evidence was offered.