Inquiry after sick mum smothers two year-old daughter to death

Mr Justice Butterfield
Mr Justice Butterfield
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A REVIEW has begun into how a mother suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, whose problems were known to the authorities, was able to smother her two-year-old daughter to death.

Sonia Bellfield was devoted to her little girl Jasmine, but had longstanding mental health difficulties.

Leeds Crown Court heard yesterday that on the two days before the killing, visits were made by professionals when there were concerns about her deteriorating mental state.

But it was not then considered an emergency in which to take the child – and by the following afternoon, when a team attended to assess Bellfield’s psychiatric condition, it was too late.

Bellfield later said when a mental health nurse and a child care assessor had knocked on her door the previous night she thought they were the FBI coming to take her daughter and her voices told her to save her from them.

She put her hand over her sleeping daughter’s nose and mouth smothering her. She then took an overdose of her anti-psychotic medication before lying beside Jasmine and stabbing herself so that she would join her.

She knew nothing more until the assessment team arrived the next day when a police officer found her covered in blood. Her daughter’s body was upstairs.

Bellfield, 31, then of Naylor Court, Dewsbury, denied murdering Jasmine but admitted her manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Ordering her detention without time limit under the Mental Health Act, Mr Justice Butterfield said she was clearly a “devoted and caring mother” and it was through no fault of hers that she suffered from a terrible mental illness.

“It was the symptoms of that disease that caused her to behave as she did. To describe this case as a tragedy is to trivialise that word. It is a terrible event.”

The judge said he was making no comment on the involvement of professionals in the case – “that is for others.”

A spokesman for the Kirklees Safeguarding Children Board confirmed that a Serious Case Review was already under way.

He added: “Following the review’s completion, details will be published by Kirklees Safeguarding Children Board, one of whose purposes is to examine the work of local agencies. It would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage due to the risk of pre-determining the review.”

Paul Greaney QC, prosecuting at Leeds Crown Court said Bellfield was first referred to psychiatrists at the age of 19 and in October 2000 was admitted to the Priestley psychiatric unit in Dewsbury, where between 2002-05 she was an outpatient. She was under a community psychiatric nurse until late 2006 and continued to be prescribed medication by her GP.

In December 2009 she asked an out of hours nurse practitioner to refer her back to the mental health team but there was no evidence she was seen by a psychiatrist.

Bellfield had separated from her husband, who also had mental health problems, but social services were satisfied with her care of her child.

However, a month before she killed Jasmine, Bellfield took her to a nursery and that led to two health visitors visiting her at home on February 17.

They were concerned about her state and their referrals led to the visit the next evening when Bellfield would not let the psychiatric nurse in and the fateful decision was made to return with police the next day to assess her.

Michelle Colborne QC, for Bellfield, said she and her mother believed she had been let down by the professionals in those days.

Det Supt Dave Pervin it was a “sad case” that had “touched” all the investigating officers.