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‘Act of courage’ that landed Deborah Moggach’s mother in the dock

Voluntary euthanasia laws considered in a play telling story of how illustrator Charlotte Hough came to be charged with murder

11 January, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

Deborah Moggach

THE true story of how best-selling author Deborah Moggach’s mother was charged with murder after helping a friend take her own life is to be told in a new play.

Charlotte Hough, her­self a well-known thriller writer and children’s book illustrator, was found guilty of attempted murder in the early 1980s and went on to serve time in prison.

A clipping from the Evening Standard

The case now provides the basis for The Promise, which considers the laws around voluntary euthanasia. Ms Moggach has provided documents and reports from the time to help with the dramatisation. Ms Hough was arrested after the death of 84-year-old Annette Harding, who was suffering from ill health and asked her friend to sit with her at her Primrose Hill home on the night she decided she wanted to die.

Ms Moggach told the New Journal this week: “My mother had been trained as a Samaritan. Annette was not in a good state. Out of kindness my mum would visit her. She was very lonely, living in sheltered housing – she had no family and was really pretty ill. Annette said to my mother she was going to take her own life and would she sit with her and hold her hand while she did it.”

Charlotte Hough

Ms Harding had gathered the pills she needed, said Ms Moggach, and written a note saying “Do not resuscitate”, which she hung round her neck.

“It was a pretty big thing to ask of someone,” she said. “Annette fell into a coma and was still breathing as the morning broke. My mother knew a warden would be coming round and she knew that Annette had been very clear that she did not want to be found alive so my mother put a bag over her head, tied a ribbon round it and waited until her friend stopped breathing. She then packed up the bag and left.”

Ms Moggach, who wrote The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, added: “We kept quiet – it wasn’t the sort of thing you bandied about, after all. But my mother was not very discreet. She told a fellow Samaritan who, we believe, called the Evening Standard and then the police.” Ms Moggach first heard her mother had been held by police as she cycled down Parkway one day and saw on a newspaper billboard: “Thriller writer arrested for murder.”

Annette Harding

At the Old Bailey, Ms Hough, who lived in Ivor Street, Camden Town, and died in 2008, was at risk of being served a mandatory life sentence for murder.

“She had pleaded not guilty but was advised to change her plea to guilty of either being of an unsound mind – to which she refused – or attempted murder, which she agreed to,” said Ms Moggach. “It was an act of kindness by my mother – an act of courage.”

Her mother was given a nine-month sentence, and served six months. Silver Sage theatre company and playwright Vicky Lee – a recently retired Primrose Hill dentist – are bringing The Promise to the New Diorama Theatre, in Regent’s Place, Euston, on February 21 and 23. Ms Moggach, a patron of pressure group Dignity In Dying, which campaigns for a change in the law regarding assisted death, added: “It was an extremely traumatic experience, but I am pleased this group of actors are bringing it to the stage. It is a debate we need to be having.”

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