A mother who left her four young children — including a six-month-old baby — home alone while she went out boozing with friends has walked free from court.
Twice a week, the single mother left her nine-year-old son in charge of his younger siblings —aged seven, two and six months — to go out drinking, Belfast Crown Court heard.
Prosecuting lawyer Philip Henry said the boy would make up bottles for the baby and that his mother would come home smelling of drink. He told police how his mum would leave at around 10pm and not return until around two or three in the morning. The lawyer described the final incident when the 29-year-old woman, who cannot be identified to protect her children, came home so drunk that she could not let herself into her own house and had to ask a neighbour and seven-year-old daughter for help finding her keys.
The court also heard that the eldest boy was taken to hospital with a cut on his forehead after his mum “threw a glass in his direction” during an argument.
The woman pleaded guilty to one charge of causing actual |bodily harm to her son and six further charges of child cruelty by wilfully abandoning her son on dates between January 1, 2010 and May 27, 2011.
Judge David McFarland said that although the woman deserved jail, he was suspending her eight-month jail sentence for two years, as the children would have to go into care if she was |imprisoned.
The woman admitted to police that while leaving her son in charge of his younger siblings, she went out to pubs, to friends' houses or “in the car with a friend”.
There was also evidence, said Mr Henry, that the boy had “missed a significant number of days at school — around 20 — because he would be too tired in the morning to go to school as a result of him having to be up late to look after the family”.
Defence lawyer Kelly Doherty said the defendant was “extremely ashamed and embarrassed to find herself before the court”.
She said she provided a “loving and supportive environment” for them but that she was “struggling desperately” and could not cope.
Ms Doherty revealed the 29-year-old had called Social Services herself seeking help, but that none was forthcoming.
She added that, ironically, now that the woman is before the court, she is “getting all the help she needs”.
The lawyer told the court that since the behaviour came to light, the children have been removed from the ‘at risk' register and that their mother has “done everything she could have... to provide a good standard of care for her children”.