Columnist's confession shifts 17,000 additional copies

By Lou Thomas

The Birmingham Mail was inundated with phone calls and emails from readers after columnist Maureen Messent confessed to the mercy killing of her great aunt.

Editor Steve Dyson said 17,000 extra copies were printed last Friday when the column appeared, while the paper received nearly 300 phone calls compared with 40 to 50 on a normal reader’s poll.

Dyson said: "We had some readers saying she was incredibly brave, some ringing up saying that she was going to hell."

The paper filled two pages the next day just with email and phone call reaction to the confession.

Messent, who has worked for the Mail for 40 years, admitted to the mercy killing of her great aunt Eileen O’Sullivan, who was dying of lung cancer in 1976.

Messent said she gave her aunt a bottle of morphine that a doctor, a friend of the family, had given her.

According to Messent’s piece, the doctor had said: "Give her this as she needs it."

Messent told Press Gazette: "I genuinely thought that this was a debate that needed airing from somebody that had actually done it.

"A lot of people were offering longwinded sermons about the sanctity of life or there were people who thought it was quite legitimate to do it, but since I’ve been through it I thought I’d have a go."

Messent said that she had no idea of the storm the story would cause, and added: "We’ve got to have a general debate. This could affect any of us. It doesn’t have to be with an old person, it could be with a terribly ill child.

There comes a stage where we have to act for ourselves."

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