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Mother can't be committed to CMH as it has reached 'full capacity in its quota of female patients', court hears

The woman was yesterday found not guilty by reason of insanity of the murder of her three-year-old daughter.

Image: Sasko Lazarov via RollingNews.ie

A MOTHER FOUND to have been insane when she smothered her child with a pillow cannot be committed to the Central Mental Hospital because the facility has reached “full capacity in its quota of female patients”, a court has heard.

A barrister for the HSE told the Central Criminal Court today that every effort is being made to secure a bed for the woman and it was hoped that the matter would be resolved by tomorrow morning.

The 43-year-old woman, who cannot be named by order of the court, was yesterday found not guilty by reason of insanity of the murder of her three-year-old daughter in their family home nearly two years ago.

Prosecution counsel Paul Murray SC told Justice Michael White today that the trial judge, Justice Carmel Stewart, had made an order committing the defendant to the Central Mental Hospital (CMH) yesterday afternoon in order for the preparation of a psychiatric assessment by an approved medical officer.

The matter was to be brought back before the court on 5 November, he indicated.

However, Murray said no bed was made available for the woman so the order could not be complied with. “This came as news to all parties concerned,” he remarked.

The court had to be reconvened with Justice Stewart yesterday evening, where she vacated the committal order and admitted the defendant on bail, said Murray. The lawyer reminded the court that the woman had been granted bail with certain conditions in July of this year.

The only bail condition which could not be continued was her surety as the trial had now come to an end, said Murray, adding there was no objection from the prosecution to this.

Dr Ronan Mullaney, the defendant’s treating consultant psychiatrist, gave evidence yesterday evening that his patient’s application was not of the most immediate urgency, said Murray. As a result, Justice Stewart vacated the woman’s committal order and released her on bail, he said.

Lack of bed

At the moment, there is no bed available for the woman at the CMH, said Murray.

Peter Finlay SC, for the HSE, informed the court that every effort is being made to secure a bed for the woman but the CMH had reached full capacity in its quota of female patients.

“The CMH had made arrangements in anticipation of the verdict to transfer another woman to a third party facility but it became clear that this facility was not appropriate for her,” he explained. Finlay said he hoped the issue would be resolved by the morning.

Addressing the defendant, Justice White said: “There is a mandatory obligation on the court to get a report in order to see whether you need further treatment or not and there is a mandatory time for doing that.”

The judge remanded the woman on continuing bail until tomorrow morning and said he hoped the matter would be resolved by then.

The two-day trial at the Central Criminal Court heard that the woman described to gardaí how she held the pillow over the child’s face as she struggled and screamed. Her toddler called out for her daddy and finally let out a sigh, she said.

The woman became “obsessed” and “overwhelmed” with the infant’s autism diagnosis and convinced herself that the toddler had a more severe form of autism – Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) – when in reality the diagnosis was at the milder end of the spectrum.

She was fearful for her child’s future and felt it could ruin the life of her other child. In the days prior to the killing the defendant had carried out internet searches on “suicide” and “mothers killing their autistic children”.

The toddler was pronounced dead on 13 February 2018 and her cause of death was cerebral hypoxia, caused by the act of suffocation.

Two consultant forensic psychiatrists from the CMH gave evidence during the trial that the defendant fulfilled the criteria for the special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Dr Sally Linehan, called by the prosecution, testified that the defendant was suffering with “recurrent depressive disorder” and said the defendant did not know what she was doing was wrong and was unable to refrain from committing the act.

Dr Stephen Monks, for the defence, said the woman was suffering from “severe depression with psychotic features” and did not know the nature and quality of the act as she believed her only option was to kill her child, who she was convinced was profoundly disabled and had no future or quality of life.

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Alison O'Riordan

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