A boy (4) left ‘home alone’ after his mother went to a shop to get him sweets was turned into a human fireball when he ignited a flyspray aerosol beside a lit candle, a court has heard.
His mother, Leanne Carson, (32), of Brooke Park in Ballymena’s Harryville area, was, on Thursday, convicted of causing cruelty to her son, Bradley Spiers.
At Ballymena Magistrates Court the case was contested with the defence claiming it could not be proved beyond doubt the defendant, a single mum who is schizophrenic, was aware her actions put her child in danger.
Deputy District Judge Phillip Mateer convicted her on a charge that she inflicted cruelty on a person under 16 years of age in that she ‘wilfully neglected’ the boy in a manner likely to cause him unnecessary suffering or injury to health.
After catching fire the boy ran from his home and was spotted ablaze by passers-by who helped put out the flames.
He spent a number of weeks in hospital suffering from burns.
He was four and a half years old at the time of the incident on November 16, 2012.
A pre-sentence report will now be prepared on Carson and sentencing was adjourned until December.
Prosecutor Joseph Murphy said around 2.30pm on November 16, 2012, people driving along saw the then four and a half-year-old Bradley Spiers on fire and while police and an ambulance were contacted a man went to Carson’s home at nearby Brooke Park where he heard “loud music blasting” out the back door which was unlocked along with an open back garden gate.
He could smell a toxic burning smell and after turning off a stereo in the kitchen he saw a tea light candle and aerosol and when Carson arrived home she said she had only left her son for a few minutes to go the shop thinking he was sleeping.
She was arrested and told police she had taken her son to a speech therapist earlier that day before returning home and lighting a candle whilst her son was lying watching television and was sleeping and she decided to go to the shop and closed the door behind her.
Mr Murphy said although there is no direct evidence it appears the boy sprayed the flyspray aerosol near the candle setting him on fire and he was found on the nearby Larne Road.
His mother was at a nearby shop and CCTV showed she was there for 18 minutes and would have taken a couple of minutes to get there.
Mr Murphy said Carson was aware she should not have left her son alone in the house especially after leaving without putting out the candle.
Defence barrister Amy Campbell contested the case arguing her client, who did not give evidence directly to the court, had not wilfully neglected the boy.
She said Carson had taken him to a health appointment that morning and then went to the shop to get him sweets.
Ms Campbell said the defendant suffers from schizophrenia and she said there was a “lack of intent” by Carson and the idea that the boy could be harmed “never entered her head”.
The defence barrister said there were questions at the time over whether Carson - “a woman with mental health difficulties” - was a fit person to look after the child and claimed the defendant had asked for help from Social Services which had not come.
Prosecutor Mr Campbell said loud music heard at the house raised the issue of whether the boy was asleep.
He said Carson estimated it took her two minutes to go to the shop and she said she was there for only five minutes but in fact she was 18 minutes in the shop and he argued that was an attempt to minimise her culpability.
He said the defendant had two older children, not in her care, and that previously when one of those children was four they had been left alone and found by police.
Mr Campbell said that was “very relevant” and meant Carson would have been aware she could not leave her child alone on the day of the fire.
He said while not locking the house door was neglectful he said it was also fortuitous otherwise the burnt boy could not have escaped and “that probably saved his life”.
Mr Campbell added that Carson “must have appreciated - any parent would - that you cannot leave a four year old in a house alone”.
Judge Mateer said the case had echoes of the Madeleine McCann case about what can happen when a child is left alone.
He said the matters before him were a “difficult and really very tragic case” in which a child was “seen in the street on fire” and involved “significant action on the part of a number of people and the authorities to extinguish the fire and deal with the obvious pain he was in”.
The judge said it was not disputed he had come from his home and after coming to the attention of passers-by it was discovered a tea light candle was still lit and a flyspray aerosol was lying beneath a kitchen table.
He said the likely cause of the fire was the boy sprayed it and it was ignited by the tea light.
The judge said it took some time for Carson to return and she was “away for up to 22 minutes” and had left a young child alone in a home where there were a number of potential dangers.
He found she had wilfully neglected the boy and was a functioning adult living independently.
The judge said: “I find she did form the necessary intent and therefore I have to convict her” as he adjourned the case until December for sentencing.