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Mother who strangled son a 'misdiagnosed schizophrenic'

A WOMAN on trial for the murder of her eight-year-old son was a "misdiagnosed schizophrenic" and could have recovered "if she had been listened to", a jury heard yesterday.

Dr Brian McCaffrey, a specialist in forensic psychiatry was giving evidence in defence at the trial of Jacqueline Costello (30), formerly from Woodlawn Grove, Waterford.

Ms Costello has pleaded not guilty to murdering her son Robert on October 28, 2000 at Deerpark, Mullinavat, Co Kilkenny.

Dr McCaffrey told Paddy McCarthy, for the defence, that since 1995, Dr Derek O'Sullivan consultant psychiatrist to the accused had been treating her with medication for depression, not for schizophrenia.

"She was given different types of medication for depression ... coming on 12 months after a delivery, it couldn't have been 'baby blues'," he said.

Ms Costello's partner Stephen O'Keeffe has already told the court that Dr O'Sullivan told him on a number of occasions that Ms Costello's mental state was a "delayed result" of post-natal depression.

An examination of medical reports showed that as far back as 1996 the accused was concerned about her mental state and wanted to know more about her mother's schizophrenia, Dr McCaffrey said.

In an interview the accused had made Dr McCaffrey aware that she had suffered a sexual assault and was raped when she was younger. She had also told Dr O'Sullivan of the attacks.

Reading from Dr O'Sullivan's notes he said: "I felt those two lines had the diagnosis staring at me; she wanted to know about her mother's schizophrenia and mentions the sexual abuse at the age of 10."

At one stage Dr O'Sullivan prescribed a drug for schizophrenia and Ms Costello "responded well" to it. "To me that was a clue to the diagnosis, it was not for the treatment of depression, but she responded," Dr McCaffrey said.

This drug was discontinued and she resumed taking anti-depressants and mood stabilisers. The psychiatrist said that "if she had been listened to" the illness could have been treated.

He said Ms Costello should not have been allowed to leave Waterford Regional Hospital on the morning of her son's death.Dr McCaffrey told the court that when Ms Costello strangled and suffocated her son she "felt she was doing the right thing".

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"She was actually killing Robert but she didn't realise it, she could not have been persuaded to stop," he said. The trial continues at the Central Criminal Court.

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