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Mother suffering post-natal depression smothered baby

By Deborah McAleese

Published 16/04/2016

In one of the saddest cases to come before Northern Ireland’s criminal courts the woman was yesterday released on bail after pleading guilty to killing her infant son, who died in hospital four weeks after she smothered him with a blanket
In one of the saddest cases to come before Northern Ireland’s criminal courts the woman was yesterday released on bail after pleading guilty to killing her infant son, who died in hospital four weeks after she smothered him with a blanket

A mother-of-two smothered her five-month-old baby boy to death while suffering from severe post-natal depression, a court has heard.

The 32-year-old woman, who trained as a doctor, openly wept as the court was told how she wished she could hold her son again and would be haunted by his death for the rest of her life.

In one of the saddest cases to come before Northern Ireland's criminal courts the woman was yesterday released on bail after pleading guilty to killing her infant son, who died in hospital four weeks after she smothered him with a blanket.

The woman and the baby's father took legal action against doctors who wanted to turn off the child's life support machine.

However, a High Court Judge ruled in favour of the medical profession and the life support was turned off on April 4, 2014.

The baby died five days later.

At the time of her youngest son's death the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was suffering from a "severe post-natal depressive episode with psychotic and delusional features", Belfast Crown Court heard yesterday.

In a statement to police after her arrest the woman said: "I now know my mind wasn't right. I can't believe I did this. I wish I could turn back the clock. I wish I could hold him, hug him and kiss him. This will haunt me for the rest of my life. I am so sorry."

She had also intended to take her own life, the court heard.

Crown barrister Ciaran Murphy said: "She felt she couldn't go on any longer. The only way was to finish it. It was automatic that (her son) had to die too."

The court heard that police and paramedics responded to a 999 call on Friday, March 7, 2014 from a woman who said she had killed her baby.

When they arrived at the woman's Belfast flat the door was lying open and she was sitting on a settee with her knees drawn to her chest looking "dazed".

She told police: "I just killed my baby. I suffocated it. I killed it."

Her baby was found lying motionless in his cot in a small bedroom with blood around his nose and mouth.

The woman's second child, who was two years old at the time, was also in the flat.

Paramedics rushed the child to the hospital where, following prolonged resuscitation, he was kept alive for four weeks.

He had suffered severe and irreversible brain damage.

The court heard that the woman, who completed a degree in medicine but decided not to practice, had suffered from "moderate to severe" post-natal depression with anxiety and suicidal thoughts following the birth of her first son.

Her mental illness was treated through anti-depressants and she made a complete recovery at the time.

But three months after the birth of her second child her mood "deteriorated dramatically", the court heard.

In the weeks before her son's death she had severe mood swings, was anxious about her children's health and began to believe she was a failure as a mother.

Defence lawyer Sean Doran QC told the court: "In the weeks preceding the incident the depression she experienced was on a different level to what she had experienced in the past... she has to live with the guilt and self-blame on a daily basis. She thinks of her son every day and grieves."

Mr Doran added that the mother struggles to comprehend her actions now that her mental health has improved.

She has not seen her other son since her arrest and her marriage has broken up.

"This is a very sad case in which a caring young mother is driven to do something unthinkable due to a severe depressive episode," Mr Doran said.

He added: "She is deeply remorseful and acknowledges she faces a very significant challenge to rebuild her life."

Mr Murphy also told Mr Justice Treacy that it was also accepted that in such cases, the appropriate sentence was one of probation, a community-based sentence coupled with continued mental health treatment.

The woman was remanded on bail to return for sentencing later this month.

Belfast Telegraph

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