Belfast Telegraph

Mother acquitted of killing baby son breaks down at inquest

By Victoria O'Hara

A mother acquitted of strangling her newborn baby broke down after reliving the moments she gave birth to her son, who lived for only 15 minutes.

Wendy Johnston, from Spruce Hill in Irvinestown, Fermanagh, was charged with murdering her baby in 2006.

In 2007, however, the Public Prosecution Service said it was no longer offering any evidence against her and dropped the case.

During an inquest held in Belfast yesterday it emerged that Ms Johnston, who claimed she did not know she was pregnant, spent two days with the body of her newborn - Joshua - in her Fermanagh home.

The court heard that after giving birth alone on her living room sofa on February 20, 2006 she was left "shocked and frightened".

Ms Johnston wept as she sat in the public gallery listening to evidence.

Coroner Suzanne Anderson was told Ms Johnston, who admitted having alcohol addiction and mental health issues, had been interviewed eight times by police following her arrest. Investigating officer Detective Sergeant George Patterson said during the police interviews Ms Johnston had said she had hoped the baby had lived. She also consistently denied harming the baby.

Reading interview summaries, he said Ms Johnston explained she had gone into labour at around 7pm. When the baby was born Joshua had not cried. Instead the only noise she heard was a "purring" sound.

She also looked at the baby's ribs but they were not moving and she believed he was dead. The baby was then wrapped in a towel and placed on the sofa. She told police she sat with the baby and "just looked down at him".

On February 22 she left the house to buy eggs, bread and vodka. At around 10pm that night she spoke to her sister Caroline on the phone and told her she had given birth, but the baby had died.

A doctor who was called to the house described the baby as being "cold and blue". He added that Ms Johnston "appeared in an intoxicated state".

She was asked by the doctor a number of times to be examined but refused and insisted she had not been aware she had been pregnant. Tests were unable to be carried out on the placenta as the court heard Ms Johnston had disposed of it down the toilet.

A post-mortem examination also revealed baby Joshua had suffered from multiple defects when he was born prematurely - between 22 and 31 weeks of pregnancy.

His death was officially pronounced at February 23 at around 1.10am, but it is believed he only survived for 10 to 15 minutes. Expert medical opinion also concluded that marks on the baby's neck may have been deliberate, or could have also been "inadvertently caused through the stress of labour".

Dr Peter Ingram, deputy State Pathologist for Northern Ireland, said the cause of death was perinatal aphixsia - the deprivation of oxygen to a newborn.

Wendy Johnston, from Irvinestown, had been accused of strangling her baby boy on February 22, 2006. She was arrested six days later. She alleged none of her family knew she was pregnant and that on February 20, while watching television, her waters broke, and shortly after the baby was born on the sofa. But in December 2007 the Public Prosecution Services stated it was no longer offering any evidence against her. She was freed after Mr Justice Stephens directed a jury to find the then 34-year-old "not guilty".

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