'Doting' mother held over murder

Friends of a woman being questioned by police on suspicion of murdering her two-year-old son have described her as a "doting" mother.

The 39-year-old, named locally as Melanie Ruddell, was arrested when she walked into a County Durham police station carrying her "unresponsive" son Christy.

The boy, also named by neighbours, was taken by ambulance from Peterlee police station, County Durham, to Sunderland Royal Hospital, where he was confirmed dead shortly after arrival.

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His mother was arrested because of injuries found on his body.

Two police community support officers stood on duty outside Mrs Ruddell's home in the village of Castle Eden, County Durham.

The curtains of the red brick Victorian end terrace had been drawn.

Neighbours of Mrs Ruddell, who is understood to have split from her husband Alan a few months ago after three years of marriage, spoke of a loving mother.

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A former neighbour, who lives in the centre of the village, said Mrs Ruddell and her husband had moved to the other end of Castle Eden about two years ago.

He said: "After she moved I really didn't see much of her other than when I saw her walking Christy around.

"She was vivacious. She enjoyed life."

The former neighbour, who did not want to be named, said he understood Mr and Mrs Ruddell had split up some months ago.

"They left here and moved up to the other end of the village and as far as we were aware they were getting on well," he said.

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He added: "It is quite distressing to hear, especially to have heard it as a news item, with her being so doting and the child being so important to her.

"It is a big shock."

His wife said: "It is really shocking. Horrible. We lost touch. We knew them well when they lived here. She had a very bubbly personality.

"Melanie wanted children. Having a child was so important to her. They were overjoyed when they had a baby."

Mrs Ruddell is understood to have worked as a welder for a local firm but after being made redundant began selling office stationery.

Another neighbour said: "She was a lovely, lovely person.

"Something very unfortunate must have happened.

"I am sure we'll find out in the fullness of time."

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Durham Police would not confirm the identity of the woman in custody.

They said she walked into the police station's reception area between 7.30am and 8am carrying her son in her arms.

A force spokesman said: "The child was not responsive and an ambulance was immediately called for.

"He was then rushed to Sunderland Royal Hospital where, despite the efforts of doctors, he was confirmed dead shortly after arrival.

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"Due to injuries on the child's body, the 39-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of the boy's murder, and she is now in custody at Peterlee police station."

A post-mortem examination was due to take place later to establish the cause of death.

Police said she was believed to have been the driver who parked a Skoda Octavia outside the magistrates' courts next to the police station.

The vehicle has been taken away for forensic analysis.