In one of the saddest and most tragic cases to come before the courts in Northern Ireland, a mother of two wept on Friday as details emerged of how she killed her youngest son whilst in the depths of despair that she had given him “bad genes”.
Belfast Crown Court heard that the Belfast woman felt she had no other option but to kill the five-month-old and possibly herself and her other son.
The 32-year old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had originally been charged with murder, but a prosecuting QC, Ciaran Murphy, said that all medical and legal experts agreed that the appropriate charge was one of infanticide, which has been accepted.
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.
Defence QC Sean Doran described it as a “very sad case in which a caring young mother was driven to do something unthinkable due to a depressive episode”.
Mr Doran said that “she has lost her child, she has lost her family, and faces the very great challenge of rebuilding her life in the aftermath of these criminal proceedings”.
Mr Justice Treacy said he wished to review the case before passing the ultimate sentence this month.
Earlier, Mr Murphy told the court that, following initial treatment both at the apartment and in hospital, the baby lived for four weeks.
The baby boy had suffered irreversible brain damage - and despite family wishes, the courts later ordered that a ventilating system keeping the tot alive should be turned off.
The harrowing incident unfolded shortly before 8am on March 7, 2014 when the emergency services received a 999 call from a woman telling them she had “killed her baby”.
Police and paramedics rushed to her Belfast apartment, finding the “dazed” mother sitting alone on a sofa.
She told them her baby was in the bedroom. He was found lying on his back in a cot. He was still, with blood around his nose and mouth, and was a “poor colour”.
After finding the baby, a police constable spoke to the woman who was lying on the sofa with her knees pulled up to her chest, facing the back of the sofa. He asked her what happened.
“I just killed my baby. I just suffocated him”, she replied.
Mr Murphy said that, when arrested, the woman shook her head and was heard saying, “I can’t believe what I have done.”
The prosecution lawyer said it soon became clear that not only was the woman not fit for detention, she was also not fit for interview and was taken to Knockbracken where she was admitted under the Mental Health Order.
When eventually interviewed, the woman - with the help of her solicitor - provided police with a written statement about the events.
“I know now that my mind was not right. I can’t believe that I did this. If I felt the way I feel now, this would not have happened. I wish I could turn back the clock.
“I wish that I could hold him and hug him and kiss him. I miss him so much and my family will never be complete.
“I am so sorry to my husband and to our other son. I have taken everything away from my son, his whole future and this will haunt me for the rest of my life.
“I am so sorry about all this”, read the statement.
Medical notes subsequently revealed that the woman feared that she had given her son brain damage because she had left heating on in the apartment for too long.
She also believed that her eldest child had been affected by the flu jab, as well as believing her youngest had suffered because she had not taken him for the injection.
In addition, after being told her eldest son was probably on the autistic spectrum, she felt she was guilty of “passing bad genes” on to both of her children.
Mr Justice Treacy heard that a post-mortem carried out on the infant to find out the exact cause of death remained indeterminate and inconclusive. However, the baby had suffered irreversible brain damage due to a lack of oxygen and blood to the brain.
The post-mortem also concluded it could not be ruled out or confirmed that suffocation was the cause, and that the infant could have suffered cardiac arrest which would have resulted in the same fatal injuries.
“The youngster suffered severe and irreversible damage to his brain because of a lack of oxygen flowing during the period when his heart was not beating,” he stated.
Mr Murphy also revealed that, following the birth of her first son, the woman had suffered from episodes of post-natal depresssion which was treated with medication and family support.
However, within three months of giving birth to her second son, matters escalated with the then 30-year-old talking of anxiety and suicidal feelings.
Whilst in Knockbracken, the woman was assessed by several psychiatrists as having suffered “a severe depressive episode with psychotic features ... arising out of the consequences of childbirth” which left her feeling delusional and detached from the world around her.
In defence, Mr Doran highlighted the fact that it was the woman herself who contacted emergency services, and, when arrested, she had to be admitted to hospital under the Mental Health Order as she was unfit to be interviewed.
She later made a statament with the assistance of her solicitor in which she admitted causing the death of her son.
Mr Doran said that the child’s death has had a “profound impact” on her and her family and has since led to a split with her husband, who is now the sole carer of their eldest child.
He also revealed that she has not seen her eldest son since March last year.
The lawyer said it was recognised that neither a charge of murder nor manslaughter was appropriate in this case as, at the relevant time and given the balance of her mind, she had not recovered since giving birth.
He said these were the “unanimous findings” of three psychiatrists who examined her.
Mr Doran added that it should also be noted that the conclusion of the most recent medical report is in keeping with those earlier diagnosis.
In those reports, the woman talked of her deep remorse and of having to live with the guilt and shame on a daily basis, that she thinks of her son every day and is aware of the gravity of her actions and is “willing to meet the consequences”.
Mr Doran handed in references from Hydebank’s chaplain and priest, which also talked of her remorse and how she faces the struggle of “having to come to terms with the loss of her child”.
The woman - who has already spent time on remand in Hydebank as well as seven months in Knockbracken - will be sentenced later this month.