Alison O' Riordan
A knife-wielding mother “drenched” her infant son in boiling water and said ‘I want to kill my children and myself’ whilst falsely imprisoning a social worker, the Central Criminal Court heard on Thursday.
The court also heard a victim impact statement from the social worker during Thursday’s sentence hearing, where she said that she is kept awake at night by the “vivid images” of the 18-month-old victim’s skin peeling from his “raw and pink” face and his high-pitched screams.
The social worker had barred a door to try and prevent the mother getting close to the children and later placed herself between the mother and her two boys before carrying them to safety, the court also heard.
Attempted murder charges
The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was originally charged with two counts of attempted murder of her two sons, then 18-month-olds, on October 9th, 2019 at her home. She failed in a bid to have the attempted murder charges against her dismissed last year.
Last month at the Central Criminal Court, the mother pleaded guilty to intentionally or recklessly causing serious harm to one of the two children on the same date. She further pleaded guilty to producing an article capable of inflicting serious injury in the course of a dispute, to wit a “large kitchen knife”, in a manner likely to unlawfully intimidate another person on the same occasion.
In addition, she admitted falsely imprisoning a female social care worker on the same date and location.
At the outset of the sentencing hearing, prosecution counsel Sean Guerin SC told Mr Justice David Keane that there are five counts on the indictment. He added that the first two counts are attempted murder counts in respect of the accused’s twin sons, who were 18-months old at the time of the incident. Mr Guerin said that a Nolle Prosequi will be entered (i.e. the charges will be dropped) on these two counts at the end of the sentencing process.
Mr Guerin said that guilty pleas were entered on the remaining three counts in June and they were acceptable to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) on a full facts basis.
Outlining the events that led up to the incident, Mr Guerin said a female social care worker was supervising the two boys, who were in foster care at the time, at the accused’s home on October 9th.
Garda Aisling Carroll told Mr Guerin that the social worker had arrived at the accused’s address at 9.15am, where she met the 18-month-old twin boys who were born to the accused woman but who had been in foster care since their births.
Mr Guerin said that the access arrangements had recently changed and that the accused mother was allowed supervised access to the boys once a week for a period of four hours in her home.
At around 10.30am, one of the boys was in the living room with the social worker and the other boy was in the kitchen with the accused.
The social worker could hear the child in the kitchen babbling and talking with the accused and the sound of a biscuit wrapper.
The social worker’s impression was that the child in the kitchen went very quiet and that the whole house went quiet.
She immediately got a feeling that there was something wrong and went into the kitchen and found the accused in the hallway. The boy was standing in the kitchen door soaking wet and looked shocked.
The social worker knew that something was wrong, lifted the boy and felt that he was “roasting hot”. As she did this the accused had a long black and white kitchen carving knife in her hand and said: ‘I want to kill my children’.
The social worker said the accused appeared to be very calm and so she [the social worker] went into the living room to the other child. The accused followed the social worker and both sons with the knife.
The social worker closed the door tight and tried to block the door before calling the emergency services. As she was doing this, the accused was trying to push her way into the living room as the boys became hysterical.
At this point, the social worker could see blisters developing on the boy’s face and realised that the noise of an appliance which she had earlier heard in the kitchen was the sound of a kettle being repeatedly boiled. Boiling water had been poured over the child.
Mr Guerin said the accused then forced the living room door open, held the knife to her chest and twice said: ‘I want to kill my children and myself”.
The social worker tried to take the knife from the accused, but she would not let it go.
Kettle of water
As the accused moved into the room with the knife, the social worker placed herself and the couch between the defendant and the boys. The phone line to the emergency services was open at the time and the call was shown to have lasted 15 minutes.
The boy who had the kettle of water poured over him was crying hysterically and his face was raw and pink, the court heard.
The accused looked at her son and said: ‘I want to kill my children, I want to kill myself and why did I do that to my children’.
The social worker asked the accused to pray so that the situation would not escalate further and they prayed together. The second boy managed to remain quiet during the incident and the social worker proceeded to unlock the front door.
The accused locked the door again and said something about calling an ambulance and gardaí. The social worker managed to distract the accused for long enough to unlock the door and get herself and the two children out of the house.
The social worker believed that the accused had planned the incident as she had been trying to separate the children from her [the social worker] during the morning by bringing the children upstairs and enticing them with biscuits into the kitchen.
When gardai arrived, the accused was standing in front of her house with the knife in her hand and said several times: “I tried to kill my babies, I wanted to kill myself”.
The accused was later admitted to psychiatric care in Tallaght Hospital, where she remained for a week.
She later told gardaí in interviews that she had a mental problem, that she had not taken her medication and that her mood was very low.
The boy was taken to Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin where he was treated by a consultant plastic surgeon. Approximately 18 percent of his total body surface has been left with permanent scarring and he remained in hospital for almost a month.
Mr Guerin said the child’s burns were deep, that he had significant disfiguring scarring to his face and that it wouldn’t be possible to tell until his late teens whether he will need further surgery.
The garda said that the accused, who is a mother-of-five, had been living in Ireland for 16 years and came originally from the Congo. She had custody of her three older children, but her twin sons had been placed in foster care shortly after they were born.
The court heard that the woman has no previous convictions, but had been detained on several occasions under the Mental Health Act 2004.
Under cross-examination, the garda agreed with defence counsel, Anne Rowland SC, that her client was in a psychiatric hospital for much of the first two years of the twins lives and that she had not taken her antipsychotic medication for three days prior to the incident.
The garda also agreed with the barrister that the accused has very little prospect of getting her children back full time and that she had been seeing them four hours a week, but it was always monitored.
In re-examination, the garda agreed with Mr Guerin that there was no acute evidence of the accused experiencing psychosis on admission to Tallaght Hospital.
In his submissions, Mr Guerin said the appropriate sentence ranged between 15 years and life imprisonment.
Ms Rowland said her client wanted to extend her sincere apology and remorse to the social worker, her own child and the foster parents. “She is tremendously grateful that he is fortunate enough to have this couple who are so kind and caring to him and his brother,” she added.
In mitigation, Ms Rowland said the defence of insanity was not available to the accused due to its high threshold but asked the court to pay particular attention to the psychiatric history of her client. She said the accused suffers from a combination of acute depressive symptoms and a mild intellectual disability.
Another factor in mitigation, she said, was that she had been hospitalised eight times since the birth of her children in 2018.
Mr Justice Keane remanded the woman in custody until October 6th, when she will be sentenced.
Alternatively, the contact information for a range of mental health supports is available at mentalhealthireland.ie/get-support.
In the case of an emergency, or if you or someone you know is at risk of suicide or self-harm, dial 999/112.