Ill mother suffocated her son (3) to stop him being taken into care
A mother who suffocated her three-year-old son with a pillow to stop him being taken into care has been placed under a psychiatric hospital order after a court heard she was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.
Michelle Owens (29), of Trinity Terrace, Lisburn, had previously denied a charge of murder but pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of her son Brendan Owens through diminished responsibility.
Craigavon Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, heard that Ms Owens had been suffering from mental health problems in the months leading up to the killing of her toddler son.
Prosecution counsel Ciaran Murphy QC said that in May 2013 she contacted social services saying she was considering "taking her own life'' and as a result her son was taken into care by her mother.
The court was told that the day before the killing, Ms Owens had bought a bottle of gin and a bottle of cola and later that day her mother brought Brendan to the defendant's home.
Around 2.14am on July 4, 2013, an ambulance was tasked to Ms Owens' home at Trinity Terrace where Brendan was found lying on the floor of an upstairs bedroom with his mother kneeling beside him, said Mr Murphy QC.
"He was blue in colour, he was cold to the touch, his eyes were partially open, and rigor mortis had set in," he said.
Mr Justice Weir heard that during police interviews Ms Owens said she and her son had gone to bed around 9pm the previous night and in the early hours of the following morning she "felt his cold leg against her in bed, he was pale and his eyes were partially open".
Mr Murphy QC said Ms Owens told detectives that she went downstairs and "put the kettle and washing machine on before ringing 999. She said she had tried CPR on him".
An initial post-mortem examination carried out by Deputy State Pathologist Dr Alastair Bentley was unable to give a cause of death as no injuries were found on the young boy's body.
The day after his killing, the court was told, Ms Owens signed herself into the psychiatric unit at Lagan Valley hospital.
On September 19 she told doctors that she had killed her son "by suffocating him", adding that the she "felt relieved" at telling the medical staff.
Ms Owens stated that she was "worried she would lose her son to social services and that they would put him into a home where he would be abused, and she did what she did to protect her son and said she was sorry for what she did".
Following her admission, Ms Owens was subsequently arrested and during the course of interviews she said that she lifted a black and white pillow case, telling her son: "Mummy is going to help you in case the bad men get you."
She told detectives that she "pushed him back on the bed, put the pillow case over his face, put her full weight on him and suffocated him".
Mr Murphy QC added the mother-of-one was later charged with the murder of the son and remanded into custody to Hydebank Wood Young Offenders' Centre.
The court heard Ms Owens was examined at the Shannon clinic at Knockbracken Healthcare Centre in south Belfast by a number of consultant forensic pyschiatrists who "had all come to the same conclusion about her mental health disorder which was that she was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia".
The prosecution counsel added that all three consultants also recommended "a hospital order for the disposal of this case" with appropriate restrictions.
Consultant forensic pyschiatrist Dr Richard Bunn told the court that Ms Owens had been under his care and supervision for the past year and said that he had recently switched her medication "because of her ongoing symptoms as she was not currently in remission of diagnosed condition of paranoid schizophrenia".
He said that in his view a hospital order would be the appropriate way to deal with the case to assist in treating her ongoing symptoms over an indefinite period of time.
Defence QC Mark Mulholland told Mr Justice Weir: "This is a tragic situation given the loss of her son and also for Michelle Owens who was a loving mother to her son.
"This is something that she will have to live with for the rest of her life and she has expressed that in writing in a letter to the court."
Mr Justice Weir said he was satisfied that Ms Owens "had did what she did when she was not well" adding that she "loved and cared for her son".
"She bitterly regrets the death of her son and that is something she will live with for the rest of her life," he said.
Mr Justice Weir said that he was satisfied, given all the medical material before the court, that the appropriate course open to him was to place Ms Owens under a psychiatric hospital order with restrictions and with no limit on time.
Addressing the defendant, who sat in court flanked by two hospital staff, Mr Justice told her: "You can go now Ms Owens."
The defendant replied: "Thank you very much your worship."
Mr Justice Weir added: "Good luck."