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Mother who admits suffocating her three-year-old daughter was 'obsessed' over autism, court hears

The woman has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

File photo. Court room.
File photo. Court room.
Image: PA Archive/PA Images

A MURDER TRIAL jury has heard that a mother admits suffocating her daughter with a pillow in the family home after becoming “obsessed” and “devastated” that the toddler had a particular type of autism.

The woman, who cannot be named by order of the court, has gone on trial at the Central Criminal Court today, having pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the murder of the three-year-old infant nearly two years ago.

It was during the opening of the trial of the woman that a prosecuting barrister told the court that expert psychiatrists for both the prosecution and defence are in agreement that the accused fulfils the criteria of not guilty by reason of insanity in this case.

Opening the case for the prosecution today, Paul Murray SC said that the owner of a playgroup, which the child was attending in 2017, noticed that the toddler had some behavioural problems.

The owner felt that the child fitted some of the criteria for autism and passed this onto her mother, said Murray.

Addressing the jury, Murray said the accused was in a relationship but had mental health problems, having suffered from stress in the past. She had gone for treatment and been prescribed anti-depressants, he continued.

Counsel told the jury that the child started Montessori school in 2017, where the principal also raised concerns in relation to the child’s behaviour.

The parents of the child decided they would bring her to be assessed for autism but in the meantime the mother began researching the condition and came across Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA).

Outlining the facts of the case, Murray said the woman became convinced her child had this particular type of autism and while the person carrying out the assessment said she showed symptoms, that diagnosis was not made. Instead her child was diagnosed with a borderline condition.

The woman believed her child had a much more severe type of autism and thought she would not get the proper supports.

‘Alarming’ texts

Detailing the evidence that will be heard, Murray said that the woman texted her friends to say she felt numb that her child had been diagnosed with a severe type of autism.

While the final report from the assessment was not available, the woman became totally obsessed and devastated by the diagnosis according to her family who said she had been sending “alarming” texts and not sleeping.

She sent text messages to friends saying that everything she read on the internet about this type of autism was “horrible” and that she feared for her child’s future and that of her family, said Murray.

The prosecution barrister went on to tell the court that family and friends described the mother in the days leading up to the killing as “obsessed with the diagnosis” and “devastated”.

She had attended her GP and had been prescribed sleeping tablets after reporting that she was extremely stressed about her child. She was also seeing a counsellor.

Outlining the circumstances of the deceased’s death, Murray said the mother rang emergency services on 10 February 2018 to say that she had suffocated her daughter on purpose.

Gardaí arrived at the scene and found the child in a non-responsive condition and she was brought to Our Lady’s Hospital Crumlin, where she died three days later.

The barrister further stated that the mother’s state of mind is very much an issue in the case and the jury will have to consider the special verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Murray said that two consultant psychiatrists will give evidence and they take the view that the accused was suffering from a mental disorder at the time and the defence of insanity is available her.

Patrick Gageby SC, defending the accused, made a number of admissions of fact to the court on behalf of his client. These included that the accused admits suffocating her daughter with a pillow in the family home and called 999 emergency services afterwards.

Gageby further admitted that emergency services attended rapidly and the child was removed to Crumlin Hospital.

The defence barrister said the toddler was pronounced dead on 13 February 2018 and her mother admits committing the acts alleged against her.

In addition, he said that former State Pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy performed at autopsy on the child and said the cause of death was recorded as cerebral hypoxia, caused by the act of suffocation.

The trial resumes this afternoon before Ms Justice Carmel Stewart and a jury of six men and six women. It is expected to last up to three days.

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Alison O'Riordan

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