Baby murder accused ‘could kill herself if named’

Court proceedings
Court proceedings

Publishing the identity of a woman charged with murdering her baby would be the “tipping point” for her to commit suicide, a court has heard.

A consultant psychiatrist treating the accused claimed that naming her would lead to a heightened risk of taking her own life.

The 30-year-old woman was arrested by detectives investigating the infant’s death following an incident in Belfast earlier this year.

She was charged with murder and has been held at a psychiatric unit ever since.

Temporary reporting restrictions were imposed to protect her anonymity based on her suicidal state.

But with a press challenge to the publicity ban now being mounted, the defendant’s lawyers on Wednesday sought a full order to stop her name being revealed.

Belfast Magistrates’ Court heard that the principles of open justice and freedom of expression must yield to the right to life.

Barrister Sean Doran, for the accused, called his client’s psychiatrist to give her opinion on the consequences of publicity.

In two reports the doctor set out how the accused is suffering from severe mental illness and at real and immediate suicide risk.

Disclosing the woman’s name in the press would see the threat escalate, she told the court.

“She has made it very clear that for her it would be the tipping point, she would kill herself, if her identity would be known,” the psychiatrist said.

“She is already in a very dire situation from which it’s very difficult to treat her underlying illness.

“For her one of the negative events that could happen is a loss of anonymity. She is very fearful about this to the extent that she actually holds the belief that she should be dead and that she should kill herself.”

Even though staff in the unit watch the defendant 24 hours a day, her doctor insisted situations could still arise to enable a suicide attempt.

Patients have access to newspapers and television news, the court heard.

The doctor added: “This woman’s life will never be the same again. Some people become so ill they either complete suicide, or sometimes they end up trapped within their illness because it’s a better place to be than facing the reality of life.”

Gerald Simpson QC, for the publishers of the Belfast Telegraph which is challenging the reporting restrictions, argued that the public have a right to know both the facts of the case and the identity of the person accused of murder.

“The whole point of reporting criminal cases is so one knows the defendant who is charged with the most heinous of offences,” he said.

Contending that the accused has already been assessed as being at real and immediate risk of taking her own life, the barrister insisted that in her current regime there would be no material increased threat through being named.

“She is under 24-hour eyesight supervision by experienced staff who are aware of her acute suicidal status,” Mr Simpson told the court.

Following submissions District Judge Fiona Bagnall pledged to give her ruling on the anonymity application next month.