Mother tells how disabled daughter never got over hospital sex attack
A vulnerable disabled woman who was sexually assaulted in hospital by another patient never got over her attack, her mother has said.
Natasha Mulholland (33) was admitted to Antrim Area Hospital suffering from pneumonia on March 16, 2016.
She also lived with a rare condition, Rett syndrome, which affected her muscles and speech, leaving her completely unable to defend herself.
Three days into her stay she was moved to a mixed ward where she was sexually assaulted by Ronnie Carlton (56), a recovering alcoholic in the bed next to her.
Nine months later she died of an unrelated illness, but her mother Donna said she never recovered from the assault.
Yesterday, Carlton was jailed for 18 months, with the judge criticising the use of mixed wards.
Ms Mulholland's mother told the BBC that the last nine months of her daughter's life were very unhappy.
"She deserves to rest now because this world was just too cruel," she said.
"Natasha was let down. She wasn't protected. Vulnerable people need protecting from people like Ronnie Carleton."
She added: "I just couldn't believe it because as a mother you're a protector, that's your job as a parent, to protect your child.
"When you leave them in the hospital you assume that they're safe.
"Natasha knew that what he was doing was wrong. When I got there she was upset and we got her calmed down. If Natasha's nose was itchy she couldn't scratch it so she couldn't use her hands to fight him.
"She was totally reliant on others seeing to her and helping her and protecting her and she wasn't protected."
Carleton, from Ballymena Road, Cullybackey, admitted indecently assaulting his victim, described by Antrim Crown Court judge Desmond Marrinan as "more akin to a child than an adult".
The judge slammed the hospital for putting the vulnerable patient in a mixed ward with Carleton, who must also serve 18 months on supervised licensed parole after his release.
Judge Marrinan said that while nursing staff on the mixed high dependency ward were busy, Carleton took the opportunity to reach across, in the dim light, and sexually abuse the girl.
"I can say to you without emotion," the judge told Carleton, "your actions were despicable and inexcusable".
He said it must have been obvious to him that his victim "was a very disabled and vulnerable girl, more akin to a child than an adult".
The judge said she was also an "utterly defenceless girl ... and easy prey to your sexual desires carried out in the dead of night in a place where she should have felt safe and secure and should have been".
Judge Marrinan said that but for the good eyesight and quick reaction of a staff nurse, Carleton's behaviour could have gone on for longer.
The court heard that to compound his crime, Carleton told staff: "I thought she was OK with it... I thought she was over 18", and then while awaiting the arrival of police he told security staff: "They won't get any DNA off me."
Carleton later claimed that he had no memory of his time in the hospital or his attack.
Judge Marrinan dismissed this as "a self-serving fabrication" aimed at diminishing his responsibility.
He then criticised hospital management and their thinking behind the operation of mixed wards.
While praising nursing and security staff on duty that night, he said he could think of no reason why Ms Mulholland should have been placed in such a ward.
"I seriously question whether hospital management gave sufficient consideration to provide safe and secure care for this victim," said Judge Marrinan.
He added it was "obvious to me she should have been in an all-female or side ward".
However, instead she was in a bed next to one where Carleton - admitted because of alcohol-related hallucinations - was placed.
Judge Marrinan said management should have realised that in Carleton they were dealing with a "volatile and unstable patient" after he had tried to abscond from the hospital earlier.