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Woman spared jail over baby death
2:13pm Thursday 13th February 2014 in © Press Association 2014
A severely depressed mother who shook her baby to death and seriously injured another has been allowed to walk free from court.
Swansea Crown Court heard both children - Child A and Child B - suffered "at least" two bleeds to the brain, with them being admitted to hospital after looking lifeless and pale.
A woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had initially been arrested on suspicion of murder and causing grievous bodily harm, with intent.
However, following expert medical advice into her mental state prosecutors charged her with the lesser offences of infanticide and causing GBH.
After the defendant had pleaded guilty to both offences, Mr Justice Wyn Williams described the case as "very rare and unusual" and allowed the woman to keep her liberty.
He said: "I am satisfied your actions were caused by severe post-natal depression, which you were suffering.
"And I am satisfied you were subject to very difficult social and family circumstances.
"I reached the conclusion that your culpability for what happened is properly regarded to be low.
"In these circumstances I consider it wholly disproportionate to impose a sentence of imprisonment upon you."
Mr Justice Wyn Williams acknowledged that prison terms in "cases of these sort" were becoming "rarer and rarer".
However, he added: "Everything depends on the individual facts of the case.
"And I judge these to be very unusual and rare."
The court heard the woman and her then husband moved into the Swansea around a decade ago.
And in 2006, the woman gave birth to a child.
Shortly after the birth, the woman claimed to have told a family member that Child A had turned "yellow and gone solid".
However, she said the child had recovered after taking it into the garden for some fresh air.
A few weeks later the child was rushed to hospital after it was found lifeless and its lips had turned blue.
On arrival, the child had no heartbeat and attempts to resuscitate it were unsuccessful.
A post-mortem revealed the child had a bruise in the centre of its forehead and its brain was swollen after suffering a bilateral subdural haemorrhage.
The court was also told the mother had previously claimed to health officials another child had lifted the baby up by the legs before dropping it on the floor.
Another explanation given for the baby's condition was the woman had fallen off a chair when eight months pregnant.
An inquest into Child A's death later recorded a narrative verdict.
In 2007, the court heard that Child B was also admitted into hospital.
Doctors found the child "abnormally pale" with an MRI scan revealing a bleed to the brain and it had also suffered a fractured arm.
Prosecutor Chris Clee QC said that around this time a social worker had expressed concerns about the woman's well-being.
Reading aloud an email from the health professional, he said: "She looks exhausted and tearful.
"The situation for them is becoming desperate.
"It is evident the situation is close to breaking."
The woman later told a doctor that she shook the child as she held it by its legs "in panic" after it had "turned blue in colour".
When asked by a paediatrician why she had not immediately informed doctors about this, the woman said she had forgotten due to her distress.
Defending barrister Elwyn Evans QC said it was impossible to minimise the seriousness and sensitive nature of the case - which she described as "very long and complex".
However, she added: "When the defendant committed these offences she was suffering from very acute and very significant postnatal depression."
Mrs Evans said while cases involving the death of a child cause the "most raw in emotions", she said in "exceptional circumstances" non-custodial sentences could be handed out by the court.
She added: "We do not seek to criticise any aspect of these investigations (into these incidents).
"There is nothing to be gained from anybody in doing that."
After retiring for more than 20 minutes to consider his decision, Mr Justice Williams re-emerged from chambers to pass sentence.
He said the decision to impose a three-year community order instead of a jail term had been shaped by "thorough and conclusive" mental health reports by "two very experienced psychiatrists".
As the ashen-faced defendant wiped tears from her eyes, the judge told her: "You are free to go."
The court was told Child B has since made a full recovery.
Following the outcome of the court's proceedings, The Western Bay Safeguarding Children Board released a statement into what it called the "tragic case".
It is a multi-agency body which includes officials from Swansea Council and South Wales Police.
Chairman Nick Jarman said: "O ur thoughts are with the family at this time.
"Safeguarding children remains an absolute priority for all of the agencies who work with children and the board is undertaking a Child Practice Review (CPR).
"This is standard practice in these cases and will examine the involvement of all of the agencies which were involved with this family. The Historical Child Practice Review will be published later this year.
"The review is being carried out by an independent expert with a national reputation."