Belfast Telegraph

Belfast mother convicted of assaulting autistic son could be sent to prison, judge warns

By Alan Erwin

A Belfast woman convicted of assaulting her autistic son may be sent to prison, she was warned today.

A judge told the 43-year-old that her offence warranted an immediate term behind bars.

But she adjourned sentencing for a report on how jailing the defendant may effect her teenage son.

The defendant is not being named to protect the boy's identity.

She was found guilty of a common assault on him in September last year.

The offence is linked to a separate assault on a female member of staff at the Thorndale family support centre in the city.

Belfast Magistrates' Court heard today how the defendant was said to have admitted hitting her before threatening: "I will do it again until the Protestant b****** gets it into her head."

District Judge Fiona Bagnall described it as a "bad incident" involving an assault on a staff member working in difficult circumstances with vulnerable people.

"To be subjected to violence and a fairly concerted attack in the circumstances is a very serious matter," she said.

"It's compounded by the fact there was a sectarian aspect to this. That takes it well into the custody threshold."

Turning to the defendant's assault on her son, Judge Bagnall stressed: "This is a 17-year-old boy who is autistic."

She acknowledged the woman's own vulnerabilities led to her involvement with the Thorndale centre.

"However, that doesn't mean it gives you any immunity to treat staff the way they have been treated, or the way she treated her son," the judge added.

A defence lawyer emphasised his client's previous clear record, telling the court she had just "lost it" on the day in question.

He revealed that the defendant's son is almost totally deaf as well as suffering from autism.

"There's nothing to gain from sending this woman to prison," the solicitor contended.

Ordering a report from Social Services, Judge Bagnall replied that she was only holding off because of the boy.

She said: "As far as her actions are concerned she goes to immediate custody.

"But my only hesitation is with regard to the impact on (her son)."

Sentencing was adjourned for three weeks.

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