Killer mother found insane in New Zealand

 26 August 2006

 By BRUCE CUTLER

 

 A Hawke's Bay mother afraid she would have her fourth child confiscated killed the six-day-old boy in hospital.

 

 She was found not guilty of murder yesterday, by reason of insanity.

 

 The woman shut herself in the Hawke's Bay Regional Hospital maternity ward room and killed the baby after hearing Child, Youth and Family would be told of his birth.

 

 She had previously lost custody of three daughters because of a psychiatric illness attributed to alcohol and drug abuse, it was revealed in the High Court at Napier yesterday.

 

 Friends and family of the 30-year-old attended the hearing, where she faced a charge of murdering her son on March 3 last year.

 

 The hospital says it has improved its procedures since the death.

 

 When asked how she pleaded to the charge, the woman's lawyer, Bill Calver, held up a sheet of typewritten paper in front of the woman and she read out "Not guilty on grounds of insanity" while bouncing on her feet.

 

 Her name, and the baby's, are suppressed.

 

 Mr Calver said his client had a lengthy history of psychiatric problems "intertwined with alcohol and substance abuse" dating back to 1996.

 

 "After the birth of her third child she suffered a substantial deterioration of mental health and after the birth of her fourth child she suffered psychotic episodes.

 

 "It was tragic what happened and did occur."

 

 The court was told the boy had been born premature, by caesarean section, on February 25. He required special medical care, because of breathing difficulties, and was separated from his mother.

 

 Justice Paul Heath said the events that led to the boy's death were triggered when he was returned to her on March 2.

 

 Paediatric and Maori liaison staff told the mother that CYF would be informed of the baby's birth.

 

 At 7.30pm the woman screamed at staff and told them to leave, shutting herself in the room.

 

 "Staff heard the room being ransacked along with a threat to kill the baby."

 

 Staff restrained her, and the baby's crib was on the ground. The boy was found under debris in the room.

 

 The baby had a skull fracture and severe brain injuries, dying early the next morning.

 

 Three psychiatrists who interviewed the mother said she was "schizo-affective", one describing her as "floridly unwell" the day after the baby's death.

 

 Justice Heath said she was suffering from a disease of the mind at the time of her son's death and was incapable of understanding what she was doing.

 

 He ruled that the woman be detained as a special patient and receive long-term institutional care toward treatment "so ultimately she can be returned to the community".

 

 No blame should be directed toward medical staff.

 

 Hawke's Bay District Health Board chief executive Chris Clarke said the baby's death in the maternity ward was devastating for staff working at the time.

 

 "It's an issue we've looked at and there's been some changes to systems and processes as a result of it. We shared the review findings with the family."

 

 Mr Clarke said a family and whanau conference room, and a community liaison psychiatrist position had been created to liaise between mental health services and other parts of the hospital.

 

 Saturday, 02 September 2006

 

  Fairfax New Zealand Limited 2006.